As I was watching the video clip of Jonathan Gruber talking about state-based exchanges and subsidies last night I came across another admission which deserves some attention. A few minutes later in the Q&A following his January 18, 2012 speech, Gruber admits that the public option was an attempt to slip single-payer into the Affordable Care Act.
So I like the public option. The public option is actually the brainchild of another academic, a guy named Jacob Hacker who’s at Yale. And the public option, basically it was a clever idea. He said look, the left wants single-payer, the right wants competition–how about we have competition where the option is single-payer. It’s kind of a clever way to call both sides bluff. Basically, since it was such a good idea that’s why both sides didn’t like it. Okay, the right didn’t like it because they were afraid that the left was right and the single-payer would work. The left didn’t like it because they were afraid that the single-payer didn’t have enough teeth to really work. And basically, the public option, to be honest, was never going to happen. The public option was really something that was in there. It was a good idea as a debating point but it just was too radical. Remember, the reason this reform passed, as barely as it did, is because it was not trying to rip up things and start over. It was trying to work incrementally off the existing system. The public option was viewed as too radical.
Many are familiar with Sen. Harry Reid’s August 2013 statement that the public option was a “real good run” at single-payer. About a dozen lawmakers and progressive pundits have made similar admissions over the years, often when speaking to friendly audiences. However the major media, i.e. network and cable news outside Fox and major D.C. and New York print media have almost never touched this.
Occasionally, a site would mention some of these factual outbursts, but this piece by Politico is a good example of the result. The clips get mentioned under a bland headline (“Mixed messages bolster GOP’s case”) and the story itself suggests these are fluke statements just waiting to be debunked.
There’s even a quote in the Politico story from HCAN in which a spokesperson says the public option claims are part of a false “government takeover” narrative. The spokesperson says, “It’s not helpful, it’s not smart and it’s not the truth.” Surely HCAN knows the truth right? They’re the ones pushing the public option. Well, here’s another HCAN spokesman in a less guarded moment admitting the public option is a strategic path to single-payer. Of course that statement never, ever appeared in any news story.
Somehow the major media never put the pieces together on this issue. As Gruber admits, Democrats did try to slide a pathway to single-payer into Obamacare without telling anyone. The proponents of this sneaky path to single-payer (Ezra Klein called it a “sneaky strategy“) were so successful in keeping it quiet that the incompetents at Poltifact made “government takeover” their Lie of the Year in 2010. Stop and think about that for a moment. Politifact’s Lie of the Year was true, at least so long as the public option was under consideration.
Gruber is wrong about one thing though. It’s not true that the public option never had a chance. That is some after-the-fact rationalization for failure. In reality, it nearly passed. It was stopped only because, up on Capitol Hill, word kept leaking out about what Democrats were doing. Eventually some GOP Senators made a point of talking about it. And when Joe Lieberman caught on to the sneaky plan, that was the end of the public option.
We’ve seen multiple instances where false statements about Obamacare presented as unassailable facts turned out to be false: the bill will save families $2,500 on premiums per year, if you like your plan, you can keep your plan, etc. The media was very slow to catch on to what Democrats were actually doing as opposed to what they were saying. In the case of the public option, we’re still mostly waiting for them to catch on.