That’s not quite his verbatim quote, but it’s pretty darn close:
“The problem is it’s a political nightmare, and people say ‘no, you can’t tax my benefits’…so what we did a lot in that room was think a lot about well how could we make this work? … And [Obama] is really a realistic guy. He was like, ‘look, I can’t just do this.’ 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.”
And why was Obama so keen on obscuring the nature of his signature law’s taxes? Perhaps because he’d just recently spent months relentlessly hammering John McCain over a proposal to tax health benefits “for the first time.” So he needed MacGruber to swoop in and help craft a strategy of evasion and deflection. Noah mentioned over the weekend that in his response to Grubergate, Obama insisted that he’d never misled the public on Obamacare (which virtually nobody really buys at this point, and for good reason) and disavowed Gruber’s seemingly endless damning comments. One formulation that stuck out to me was his assertion that Gruber “was never on our staff.” This is exceedingly weak spin. The video above contains evidence that the president was personally huddling with Gruber on the Obamacare sales pitch, charging him with fashioning accounting tricks that might provide a politically-necessary fig leaf — which Paul Ryan dismantled at the pre-passage “health care summit.” It’s impossible for the White House to just divorce itself from this guy. He was very much their guy. Not only did they furnish Gruber with $400,000 for his services, they made him a leading point person for “drafting the specifics” of the law with Congress. Via the New York Times:
Along with these credentials, Mr. Gruber’s position as an adviser to the influential Congressional Budget Office also left him perfectly positioned to advise the White House on health reform. “The most important arbiter of everything was the C.B.O.,” said Neera Tanden, who was a senior adviser for health reform at the Department of Health and Human Services. The C.B.O.’s assessment of a bill’s efficacy and costs strongly influences political debate, but the office does not publicly reveal how it calculates those numbers. “We knew the numbers he gave us would be close to where the C.B.O. was likely to come out,” Ms. Tanden said. She was right. After Mr. Gruber helped the administration put together the basic principles of the proposal, the White House lent him to Capitol Hill to help Congressional staff members draft the specifics of the legislation.
That 2012 profile also quotes Gruber cheerfully describing himself as a “card-carrying Democrat” who routinely holds election night “victory parties” with friends. (How did this year’s celebration go, I wonder?) Obama can try to pull a Pelosi with Gruber. Good luck with that. Alternatively, he can keep lying about not having lied, but only the hardest-core of partisans will believe him. Even Obamacare supporters like Ron Fournier are throwing in the towel, conceding that the law was constructed on a “foundation of lies.” Indeed.