When Jonathan Gruber repeatedly refused to answer questions during his congressional testimony back in December, I queried whether he was raising “executive privilege.” Turns out that may have been right.
Jonathan Gruber, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist whose comments about the health-care law touched off a political furor, worked more closely than previously known with the White House and top federal officials to shape the law, previously unreleased emails show.
The emails provided by the House Oversight Committee to The Wall Street Journal cover messages Mr. Gruber sent from January 2009 through March 2010. Committee staffers said they worked with MIT to obtain the 20,000 pages of emails.
They depict frequent consultations between Mr. Gruber and top Obama administration staffers and advisers in the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services on the Affordable Care Act. They show he informed HHS about interviews with reporters and discussions with lawmakers, and that he consulted with HHS about how to publicly describe his role.
The administration has sought to distance itself from the MIT economist in the wake of his controversial statements in a 2013 video where he said the health law passed because of the “huge political advantage” of the legislation’s lacking transparency. He also referred to the “stupidity of the American voter.”
The Journal has details on several of the key emails between Gruber and the White House:
The emails show Mr. Gruber was in touch with key advisers such as Peter Orszag, who was director of the Office of Management and Budget, an arm of the White House that oversaw federal programs.
He was also in contact with Joshua Furman, an economic adviser to the president, andEzekiel Emanuel, who was then a special adviser for health policy at OMB.
One email indicates Mr. Gruber was invited to meet with Mr. Obama. In a July 2009 email, he wrote that Mr. Orszag had “invited me to meet with the head honcho to talk about cost control.”
“Thank you for being an integral part of getting us to this historic moment,” according to Sept. 9, 2009 email to Mr. Gruber from Jeanne Lambrew, a top Obama administration health adviser who worked at HHS and the White House. In a November 2009 email, she called Mr. Gruber “our hero.”
In an August 2009 email, Lawrence Summers—then a top economic adviser in the administration—emailed Mr. Gruber and asked “if you were POTUS, what would u do now?” Mr. Gruber responded that Mr. Obama should hold out for enough money to do universal coverage.
Mr. Gruber also informed HHS about interviews he had with health policy reporters such as Ezra Klein, previously of the Washington Post and now with Vox Media. In a November 2009 email, Mr. Gruber let a top HHS official know the conversation went well and the story would post soon.
In a Jan. 8, 2010 email, Mr. Gruber reached out to Ms. Lambrew after a Politico reporter asked why he didn’t disclose his contract before writing publicly about health care. Mr. Gruber ran a description of his responsibilities by Ms. Lambrew for her review before responding.
In a November 2009 email, he apprised HHS of his conversations with former Sen. Mary Landrieu (D., La.) She had been opposed to the health law but came to support it.
In a Jan. 14, 2010 email, Mr. Furman emailed that “we got a deal with labor. Keep that very close hold.” Unions had been opposing the health law but rallied to support it.
Remarkably, Gruber even counted the “winners and losers” if employers dumped employees on the exchanges:
He also in April 2009 supplied HHS with information outlining “winners and losers” if employers responded to the law by moving workers into the exchanges.
In a May 2009 email, he said there would be 3.6 million “losers” who were forced into individual coverage after the health care overhaul. “As you might suspect, this group is largely young and healthy,” he wrote. In an August 2009 email, he said 4.2 million people with employer-sponsored insurance would be dropped from having coverage—a trend that hasn’t materialized.
Perfect timing. I was researching Gruber today for my book!