Gruber called to testify in Oversight probe on ObamaCare transparency

For the moment, it’s an invitation. Will Darrell Issa turn it into a subpoena? It depends on whether ObamaCare architect Jonathan Gruber decides to accept the invitation to the December 9th hearing, which will probe not just the attempts to deceive the CBO during the original debate but the shifting standards on enrollment data exposed this week (via The Daily Caller):

Last night, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., sent letters calling on Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner and ObamaCare architect Jonathan Gruber to testify on Tuesday, December 9th before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on repeated transparency failures and outright deceptions surrounding ObamaCare.

“From the outset, the health law has been the poster child for this Administration’s broken transparency promises,” Chairman Issa said in a statement. “Americans were told if they liked their plans and doctors, they could keep them. They were told the individual mandate wasn’t a tax. None of these were true. Jonathan Gruber, one of ObamaCare’s chief architects, publicly lauded the ‘lack of transparency’ that was necessary to pass the law and credited ‘the stupidity of the American voter’ that allowed the Administration to mislead the public. CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner testified before our Committee that the Administration met its goals by enrolling 7.3 million individuals, however we now know that wasn’t the case. The numbers provided by CMS were deceptive and obscured the number of Americans running from exchange plans. The American people deserve honesty, transparency and respect from those who forced the federal government into their healthcare. I expect Mr. Gruber and Administrator Tavenner to testify publicly next month about the arrogance and deceptions surrounding the passage and implementation of ObamaCare.”

Yesterday, the Oversight Committee explained how the Administration exaggerated ObamaCare’s September enrollment figures, obscuring the fact that more than one million individuals dropped out since May 2014. Adding dental plans allowed the Administration to tout an enrollment total inflated by 400,000 and created the false impression that it had surpassed its goal of 7 million. Only after the Committee’s finding became public did CMS Administrator Tavenner confirm the discrepancy calling it a “mistake.”

Issa’s site includes the letters to both Tavenner and Gruber, but there is nothing specific in them about what kind of questions they will be expected to answer. Tavenner’s apology aside, the question of the reliability of the data coming out of the ObamaCare enrollment claims has been an open issue for some time. The sudden and unannounced shift to including dental plans in those figures gives Issa an opening to probe Tavenner on the question, as well as to expose the fact that the enrollments have attritted down by more than a million since the White House’s victory lap in the spring.

Tavenner, as a politically-appointed official in HHS, has little choice but to appear. Gruber could refuse, although it would look very bad if he did. HHS paid Gruber almost $400,000 for one year’s worth of work, about equal to what the President earns in salary, plus Gruber leveraged those contacts to earn millions in other contracts. On the other hand, even if not explicitly under oath, Gruber could risk a contempt charge if he tries misleading the Oversight Committee in a similar manner as Gruber did during the ObamaCare debate — about which he repeatedly and openly bragged. It’s better to look bad than to hire defense attorneys, so don’t expect Gruber to attend … unless he’s compelled to do so. And with all the money spent by HHS on Gruber, don’t think Issa won’t issue a subpoena at that point.

If so, it will be Issa’s last hurrah as chair of Oversight. Jason Chaffetz will take over the panel in January, and he’s looking for a “less personal” approach, according to Politico:

Chaffetz said in an interview on Wednesday that he would focus on how to fix the Secret Service, embassy security and mundane tasks like U.S. Postal Service reform. Issa, instead, tried to dig up dirt on Benghazi, the administration’s treatment of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service and Attorney General Eric Holder. A series of blunders, misstatements and overreaches damaged his credibility, and he is exiting the post because of term limits for Republican chairmen. …

Despite his pledge to lead a less controversial panel, there won’t be wholesale change from some of the investigations Issa faced the most criticism for pursuing. The committee’s lawsuit against Holder to compel the White House to turn over documents on the Fast and Furious gun-running scandal will continue, for one.

Democrats are likely to remain skeptical of Chaffetz’s early promises. The tea party Republican is known for making unrestrained comments when agitated or excited during committee hearings. He called the 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic outposts in Benghazi a “cover-up” and possibly an impeachable offense, and was one of the first lawmakers to call for a hearing on the terrorist attacks. He also was among a cadre of Republicans who visited the country in the months following the attacks.

Chaffetz is the chair of the subcommittee that first probed the administration’s Benghazi response for the Oversight Committee.

Will Chaffetz pursue Gruber if Issa doesn’t get him to testify? It’s a can’t-miss for Oversight, as even Democrats declared themselves disgusted with Gruber’s contempt and arrogance. Given how much money went into Gruber’s pockets and how he bragged about subverting the CBO process, it would be difficult for Chaffetz to avoid dealing with Gruber, even if he wanted to do so.