Gruber: I went too far accusing Romney of lying

Jonathan Gruber, the economist who was a key consultant on both the Massachusetts and national health care overhauls, said today he went too far in an interview by saying Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is “lying’’ when he tries to draw sharp distinctions between the two laws.

But he stood by his basic criticism that the former Massachusetts governor has been misleading in remarks trying to put distance between the substance of “Obamacare’’ and “Romneycare.’’

“I’d like to walk back the ‘lying’ statement because Mitt Romney, as far as I know, has not actually lied,’’ Gruber said in a Boston Globe interview following his comments published in Capital New York on Wednesday. “He’s just been disingenuous and purposely misleading … I did go too far in that statement.’’

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“By that I mean, when he says we did it in Massachusetts without raising taxes while President Obama’s law raised taxes, he knows the reason Massachusetts could do it is that the feds picked up much of the cost of the Massachusetts law,’’ said Gruber, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “So it’s completely misleading.’’

The 2006 law is the signature achievement of Romney’s single term as governor. Romney’s campaign did not issue a formal response to a Globe request for comment.

Gruber provided advice and econometric models to support the benefit of the so-called individual mandate that individuals who could afford it purchase health insurance or face penalties as part of both statutes. That mandate is at the center of legal challenges that the US Supreme Court will take up next year.

In the Capital New York interview, Gruber said: “I’m frustrated that the future of the American health care system rests in the hands of one or two of these unelected people who might make the decision based on political grounds.’’

During that interview, he also said of Romney’s efforts to draw distinctions: “The problem is there is no way to say that. Because they’re the same (expletive) bill. He just can’t have his cake and eat it too. Basically, you know, it’s the same bill. He can try to draw distinctions and stuff, but he’s just lying. The only big difference is he didn’t have to pay for his. Because the federal government paid for it. Where at the federal level, we have to pay for it, so we have to raise taxes.’’

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In the Globe interview, Gruber acknowledged differences in the two laws but said the core principles are the same.

“In terms of what the bills do to cover the uninsured, they’re pretty much the same,’’ he said. “Any differences between them are not substantive. But in terms of the rest of the federal bill, it’s much more ambitious than what we did in Massachusetts.’’

“In Massachusetts, we didn’t take on cost control and the federal law does,’’ Gruber said.

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