Gruber grilled at marathon hearing

As Jonathan Gruber entered a Capitol Hill hearing room on Tuesday, Republicans were hoping that the famously blunt consultant would give them new fuel to attack the transparency of ObamaCare.

He delivered.

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In a House Oversight Committee hearing to examine the “transparency failures of ObamaCare,” the embattled healthcare adviser who called voters stupid repeatedly refused to say how much money he received from the government. He also would not agree to provide documents and data related to his consulting work.

“The committee is welcome to work with my counsel on that,” Gruber said more than a dozen times in tense exchanges with lawmakers.

The GOP seized on Gruber’s reluctance to disclose his payments and documents with both the incoming and outgoing chairman of the committee threatening to subpoena him.

“We’re going to have to serve a subpoena. … It’s amazing you haven’t given us one number,” outgoing Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said more than three hours into the four-hour hearing. “Likely, you’re going to be back here again.”

Gruber’s day on Capitol Hill was a circus-like affair, with photographers swarming the professor in hallways and the cable news networks focused on his testimony.

Republicans for weeks have revived attacks on the healthcare law using recently unearthed videos of Gruber saying ObamaCare passed due to its lack of transparency and the “stupidity” of voters.

Gruber delivered a long apology that described those comments as “glib, thoughtless and downright insulting.” He returned to his apology multiple times as he was asked to explain the comments about ObamaCare.

“It is never appropriate to try to make oneself seem more important or smart by demeaning others. I know better. I knew better. I am embarrassed and I am sorry,” Gruber said.

But it was the issue of the contracts that produced some of the hearing’s most intense moments as Republicans repeatedly asked Gruber to estimate his pay and called his written disclosures incomplete.

“What are you hiding? Why won’t you give those to us? Why are we not entitled to those?” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the committee’s incoming chairman, shouted across the room to Gruber.

Chaffetz then ordered Gruber to submit the information within 30 days, with nearly a half-dozen others joining in.

Gruber, who largely kept a calm voice and demeanor during the grueling hourlong hearing, mocked Chaffetz’s request for documents.

“Do I have documents?” Gruber asked. “I have all sorts of documents. I have a piece of paper in front of me.”

Before the hearing, Gruber was asked to disclose payments from the federal government — but only supplied information for the last two years.

He revealed $134,198 in payments from the National Institutes of Health since 2012, but did not include the payments he specifically received from ObamaCare consulting.

“Do you feel bad taking all this money from ObamaCare from people you called stupid?” Rep. Blake Farenthold 

(R-Texas) asked as he pressed Gruber for more details about his pay.

“I think it was appropriate,” the economist replied.

Throughout the hearing, the former adviser sought to downplay his relationships with the Obama administration. He stressed that he was not an architect of the law or a political adviser.

The MIT economist came under attack from Democrats, as well, who quickly denounced Gruber’s role in ObamaCare.

With a fiery tone, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) called Gruber’s remarks “stupid, absolutely stupid,” “irresponsible, incredibly disrespectful” and “insulting.”

“I am extremely frustrated with Dr. Gruber’s statements,” Cummings said, raising his voice. “I was in Congress when this law was debated, and Dr. Gruber does not speak for me or the chairmen of other committees who worked tirelessly on this bill.”

In what is likely his last hearing as chairman, Issa took advantage of Gruber’s appearance to display his blunt style of questioning and cast doubt on the legitimacy of the president’s healthcare law.

“Mr. Gruber, are you stupid?” Issa asked, quoting the famous line from “Forrest Gump,” “Does MIT employ stupid people?”

“I don’t think so,” Gruber replied. “Not to my knowledge.”

While the hearing was also planned to scrutinize the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for misreporting its health insurance enrollment data, its witnesses were largely spared from questioning.

The committee asked far fewer questions of Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, who has faced flak after a GOP-led investigation found her agency over-reported ObamaCare figures by about 400,000. 

HHS officials said they mistakenly counted dental-only plans. But Republicans have accused the administration of intentionally inflating the total to reach its initial target of 7 million plans, while the actual figure is 6.7 million.

Tavenner said Tuesday that she was pleased with the “very large number,” and said she has taken steps to improve the agency’s reporting in the future.

“While this mistake was regrettable, it shouldn’t obscure the fact that the Affordable Care Act is working,” Tavenner said.

“I do not believe anyone tried to deceive the American people. I do believe the error was inadvertent,” Tavenner told the committee.

Elise Viebeck contributed. 


HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE HEARING

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)

“Mr. Gruber, are you stupid? Does MIT employ stupid people?”

Jonathan Gruber

“I don’t think so. Not to my knowledge.”

 

Gruber

“It is never appropriate to try to make oneself seem more important or smart by demeaning others. I know better. I knew better. I am embarrassed and I am sorry.”

 

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.)

“I got to tell you, [the comments] were insulting. They were especially harmful, because they gave the opponents of the [Affordable Care Act] a PR gift. You did a great job, you wrapped it up with a bow.” 

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.)

“You’re a professor at MIT and you’re worried about not looking smart enough?”

This story was posted at 9:48 a.m. and updated at 11:28 p.m.