WASHINGTON — Economist Jonathan Gruber apologized Tuesday for “thoughtless” and “inexcusable” comments about the political process behind the Affordable Care Act, which put him squarely at the center of the public debate over the law.
“In some cases I made uninformed and glib comments about the political process behind health-care reform. I am not an expert on politics, and my tone implied that I was, which is wrong,” Mr. Gruber told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee at a hearing that also featured testimony by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner.
“It is never appropriate to try to make oneself seem more important or smarter by demeaning others. I know better. I knew better. I am embarrassed and I am sorry,” said Mr Gruber, who teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Mr. Gruber’s remarks sparked a firestorm last month when videos from prior years surfaced in which he appeared to call American voters “stupid” and suggest that a “lack of transparency” in the Affordable Care Act contributed to passage of the law. Critics of the ACA, who called Mr. Gruber the “architect” of the health-care law, seized on the remarks to call into question the law’s validity, while federal health law supporters distanced themselves from Mr. Gruber.
“I’m a professor of economics at MIT. I’m not a politician nor a political adviser,” Gruber said Tuesday. “I did not draft [Massachusetts] Governor [Mitt] Romney’s health-care plan, and I was not the ‘architect’ of President Obama’s health-care plan.”
Mr. Gruber was grilled by committee Republicans.
“Are you stupid?” committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., asked.
“I don’t think so, no,” said Mr. Gruber.
“So you’re a smart man who said . . . some really stupid things,” said Mr. Issa.
“The comments I made were really inexcusable,” responded Mr. Gruber.
Several Republican members inquired about the exact amount that Mr. Gruber was paid for his work as a consultant, which Mr. Gruber repeatedly declined to answer. At several points, Mr. Gruber avoided the question by maintaining that his attorney had counseled him that financial documents already submitted to the committee had met the disclosure requirements.
“You come to the committee, we ask a question, and you’re supposed to answer the question,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. “We want to know how much you got from the taxpayers. Then [you] made fun of them after you got it from them.”
Mr. Gruber also faced a scolding by the committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), who chided the economist for giving the law’s critics ammunition to disparage it and the administration.
Mr. Gruber’s statements “gave Republicans a public relations gift in their relentless political campaign to tear down the ACA and eliminate health care for millions of Americans,” Mr. Cummings said. “Man, you did a great job. You wrapped it up with a bow.”