In the last few days -- essentially since the election -- the Republicans have launched a new line of attack on Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act).  They are attacking what they call the "architect" of the ACA, who is quoted on video of making a handful of comments, which when they are heard out of context, seem quite damning. 

This latest line of attack on the ACA is rather bizarre in many ways.  Why? Here is why:

  • Everyone who closely followed the development and then passage of the ACA knows that it was written on Capitol Hill by staffers of the four key health committees in the House and Senate;
  • The legislation was developed over a long period of time, dating back to before the 2008 election, and it was based on a series of ideas that came from: Romney's plan in Massachusetts, ideas that had been floated on the Hill and in policy circles for quite a few years (dating back to the 1990s is not before), and legislation already written by key legislators (e.g. Harkin, Kennedy);
  • in the end, the final pieces of legislation that passed the House and Senate were crafted by the leadership, and by key Senators (e.g. Sen. Baucus) and House Chairs;
  • Given all this it is bizarre to now conclude that Prof. Gruber was somehow the chief author of the ACA;
  • the role Gruber played was in creating complicated simulation models that analyzed the elements of the legislation, and then providing advice on the legislation to White House and Congressional staff.
So how about his quotes?  Two major points:

  • the qoutes are taken out of context from larger speeches, and thus can seem more dramatic without context then if they are listened to in context, and
  • Professor Gruber, like most professors, often speaks in provocative ways when speaking to academic audiences, for effect.  He is certainly not the first professor to do so.  Does this mean his quotes are somehow crucial to understanding the ACA, why it passed, how it was designed?  No.  It means these are the opinions and observations of one academic, albeit a very smart one.
To understand what is going on here, one must understand that the purpose is to demonize a law that was passed by a significant majority in the House and Senate, and signed by the President.  In the end it is Congress and the President, and no one else, who were the responsible parties, the authors, the "architects" of the ACA.  The process by which the ACA was passed is well understood, has been much written about and -- frankly -- is not that unusual for the passage of any contentious, complicated laws; except for the way that the law was finally passed when it returned to the House.

The ACA should be judged by the actual law itself, and its effects, and not some made-up controversy about what one professor says when speaking to audiences across the U.S.  In the end, what Prof. Gruber says about the law is of no material significance in understanding the "Legislative intent" of the law.