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Vox Reduces Gruber Statements on Subsidies to Single ‘Mistake’

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Can the folks at Vox count to two?

In a new history of the King v. Burwell case, Vox reduces Jonathan Gruber’s two apparent endorsements of the plantiff’s position to a “mistake.” That’s a singular mistake, despite the fact that Gruber said the same thing on at least two separate occasions a week apart. Vox’s recap simply doesn’t mention this inconvenient fact.

Vox’s story tracks the development of the legal challenges to Obamacare which culminated in the Supreme Court agreeing to here King v. Burwell. Toward the end of this history, Vox mentions a video of Jonathan Gruber which became a turning point. In the clip, Gruber makes the plaintiff’s case regarding subsidies.

“If you’re a state and you don’t set up an Exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits,” he said.

Gruber’s statement is a big problem for those who want to discount the King case.

“Gruber appeared to be providing, at least in part, the evidence the Virginia judge said the challengers lacked: proof that Congress — or at least an outside advisor who worked with Congress — did intended to condition federal funds on state participation,” Vox said. Here’s is how Vox tries to discount the problematic video clip:

Gruber has disavowed the remarks, saying that he spoke “off the cuff” and made a mistake. There’s reason to believe him: Gruber spoke regularly to dozens of reporters during this period and never mentioned this idea to any of them. So these comments are at odds with the bulk of his work on this issue.

Gruber did indeed deny it the day after the video went viral. But any fair assessment of Gruber’s credibility on this point would also have to note that this “speak-o” (as Gruber framed it) was not a one time event. There is another audio clip of a separate speech (made a week earlier in 2012) in which Gruber makes the same case even more strongly. In the second clip, Gruber says:

I guess I’m enough of a believer in democracy to thing that, when the voters in states see that by not setting up an exchange the politicians of the state are costing state residents hundreds and millions and billions of dollars, that they’ll eventually throw the guys out, but I don’t know that for sure. And that is really the ultimate threat is, gee, if your governor doesn’t set up an exchange you’re losing hundreds of millions of dollars of tax credits to be delivered to your citizens. So that’s the other threat is will states do what they need to to set it up.

There is no way to claim this statement is misinterpreted. And, unlike the other clip, Gruber was not responding to a question. This was the conclusion of his speech, a scripted observation about 3 possible threats to the success of the law. It’s just not plausible to claim this was an “off the cuff” error. Gruber’s statements are so unambiguously harmful to the government’s case that those who once cited him as an expert are now discounting him in amicus briefs as merely “a private citizen.”

The truth is that Gruber said this at least twice in speeches given a week apart. That would seem to undercut an “off the cuff” error. Vox ought to at least let its readers know this was not a single, innocent “mistake.”


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