WASHINGTON -- Economist Jonathan Gruber testified before the House Oversight Committee Tuesday morning, where he apologized for saying that the "stupidity of the American voter” helped pass the Affordable Care Act. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor also denied the notion that he was the "architect" of the law.
"In some cases I made uninformed and glib comments about the political process behind health care reform," Gruber said in his opening statement. "I am not an expert on politics and my tone implied that I was, which is wrong. In other cases I simply made insulting and mean comments that are totally uncalled for in any situation. I sincerely apologize both for conjecturing with a tone of expertise and for doing so in such a disparaging fashion."
“I did not draft Gov. [Mitt] Romney’s health care plan, and I was not the 'architect' of President Obama's health care plan," Gruber added, referring to his past consulting work on both the Massachusetts health care law and the Affordable Care Act.
Republicans have seized on recently unearthed videos of Gruber discussing that work disparagingly, which they've attempted to use to delegitimize the law. The economist, who was consulted by the White House on the bill in 2009, said in 2013 that the inability of the American voter to understand the content of the Affordable Care Act had helped the bill pass. The Obama administration and numerous Democrats involved in the law's drafting have awkwardly tried to distance themselves from the economist.
House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said Gruber's comments "revealed a pattern of intentionally misleading the public" about the law. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member on the committee, also chastised Gruber for "stupid, I mean absolutely stupid comments," adding that it gave Republicans a “public relations gift” in their campaign to repeal the law.
At one point in the hearing, Issa asked Gruber, "Are you stupid?"
"No, I don't think so," the economist said.
"So you're a smart man who said some stupid things," Issa responded.
In one video, Gruber said subsidies to help low-income Americans buy insurance are limited to state-established exchanges. Federally run Obamacare exchanges currently operate in more than 30 states. The video of Gruber's remarks has been used to bolster a serious legal challenge to the law that will be heard before the Supreme Court.
But Gruber claimed he was taken out of context.
"The point I believe I was making was about the possibility that the federal government, for whatever reason, might not create a federal exchange," he said on Tuesday. "If that were to occur, and only in that context, then the only way that states could guarantee that their citizens would receive tax credits would be to set up their own exchanges."
The controversy has also impacted Gruber personally. Vermont officials said last month after the videos were released that they would stop paying him for consulting on the state health care system.
Marilyn B. Tavenner, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, also faced questions at the hearing, including over the way the administration inflated Obamacare enrollment numbers by including dental plans in its accounting.
"It was an inexcusable mistake," she said. "I do not believe anyone tried to deceive the American people and I believe the error was inadvertent."