Over the weekend President Obama referred to economist Jonathan Gruber as “some adviser who never worked on our staff” but as far back as 2006 Senator Obama was already praising Gruber for his good ideas.
“You have already drawn some of the brightest minds from academia and
policy circles, many of them I have stolen ideas from liberally, people
ranging from Robert Gordon to Austan Goolsbee; Jon Gruber; my dear
friend, Jim Wallis here, who can inform what are sometimes dry policy
debates with a prophetic voice,” Obama tells the audience at a Brookings Institute event in April 2006. The video was highlighted today by Phil Kerpen of American Commitment.
One of the ideas Obama would later adopt after discussions with Gruber was a way to conceal the fact that his plan had effectively adopted a tax on insurance plans, one which candidate Obama had specifically campaigned against in 2008. The following 2008 ad, “Prescription,” attacks John McCain for wanting to tax benefits for the first time ever.
In another video, Gruber described how the so-called Cadillac tax was proposed as an, “exploitation of the lack of economic understanding of the American voter.” Calling it a tax on insurance companies was just a clever bit of deceit, one Gruber credited to John Kerry. In reality those costs would simply be passed down to the consumer. When asked about this in 2010, Peter Orzag said the reason for hiding the ball was, in part, because it would have been “awkward” for Obama to reverse course. Finally, in another video Gruber credits Obama with bravely looking for ways to make the Cadillac tax work:
He said ‘it’s just not going to happen politically. The bill
will not pass. How do we manage to get there through phase-ins and
other things?’ And we talked about it. He was just very interested in that topic.
There’s little doubt President Obama was involved in the attempt to take advantage of ways to conceal the Cadillac tax’s true intent. He gave an interview to PBS in July 2009 in which he claimed the, still under discussion, Cadillac tax was a way of “penalizing insurance companies.” He went on to say that his approach would not, “put additional burdens on middle-class families.” Similarly, when asked the White House explicitly denied it was a tax on individuals. CNN notes that back in 2010 the WH Press Secretary rejected that claim, saying the Cadillac tax was not a tax on individuals but insurers.
Add all this up and you have another deception on par with “if you like your plan you can keep it.” The President knew he needed to get around a political problem and this populist disguise of the tax on health benefits was how he did it.