MSNBC’s Alex Witt: ‘Does It Matter’ That Obama Lied About ObamaCare?

Leave it to MSNBC weekend anchor Alex Witt to continue marching forward, carrying the flag of ObamaCare as the rollout phase sputters along at a crawl. On Sunday’s Weekends with Alex Witt, the host often came across as a White House publicist, defending both the president and his health care law.

Witt began her show by interviewing Jonathan Gruber, one of the architects of both ObamaCare and Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health care plan. After playing a brief compilation of President Obama insisting, “If you like your health care plan, you keep your health care plan,” Witt asked Gruber, “When you heard these words, did you know that what the president was saying may not present the whole picture, and does it matter?” [See video below the break.]


First of all, that was an exceptionally kind way of saying the president lied. Secondly, way to excuse the president, Alex, by suggesting that it may not matter that he misled us about a key element of his health care law. It’s highly unlikely that Witt would ever treat a Republican president with such leniency on a lie about his signature policy achievement.

Imagine Witt asking, “Does it matter that President Bush may have been mistaken when he told us there were WMD’s in Iraq?”

Gruber, a healthcare spinmeister in his own right, insisted that Obama presented “the vast majority of the picture” and that he, Gruber, didn’t think it mattered, arrogantly explaining it away like this:
 

"[A]mong those who buy [health insurance] on their own, some will be forced to buy a more generous plan than they have today. And that's because the plans they have today aren't real insurance and we're going to move them into real insurance."
 

Later, Witt tried to spin ObamaCare’s low enrollment numbers by comparing them to RomneyCare’s low enrollment numbers when it was first launched. She then directly suggested a talking point to Gruber: “So, bottom line, you want to reiterate that people just need to employ patience here?”

Gruber did, in fact, want to reiterate that point: “I think we just need to not measure this in days and weeks but months and years.”

Later, during a conversation with Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.), Witt plopped a chart onto the screen to try and calm those afraid of losing their health insurance. The pie chart labeled 80 percent of Americans as “unaffected” by ObamaCare, with only 3 percent labeled as “potential losers” who would have to buy a more expensive plan. Referring to the chart, Witt proclaimed, “If those are the numbers we're talking about, then surely the vast majority of people are going to be better off.”

The estimates on the chart had in fact been provided by Gruber. Witt appeared, somewhat hilariously, to forget this at first, but then she caught herself as she told Pittenger: “And looking at this chart, [Gruber] absolutely agreed with it -- it came from information he supplied.”

Gruber’s estimate was that 6 to 9 million people would have to buy a more expensive plan in order to meet ObamaCare’s standards. But that might be a lowball estimate. Some analysts disagree with Gruber, such as healthcare expert Bob Laszewski, who wrote on his blog that as many as 16 million Americans will have to purchase pricier plans on the individual market. But regardless of which number is correct, Witt and Gruber are ignoring all of the people who may eventually lose their employer-based coverage because of ObamaCare.

Gruber included those who receive employer-based health insurance in his 80 percent “unaffected” category. However, the CBO has estimated that as many as 20 million Americans could lose their employer coverage because of ObamaCare’s perverse incentives. Former CBO director Douglas Holtz-Eakin estimated that the number could be as high as 40 million.

The vast majority of Americans will not be “better off,” as Witt said. More likely than not, the vast majority will be either the same or worse off.

Below is a transcript of the relevant segments:

12:05 pm

ALEX WITT: Aside from the website, one of the most controversial elements for the White House, as you know, has been one statement made repeatedly by the president prior to the launch. Let's take a listen to that.

BARACK OBAMA: If you like your health care plan, you keep your health care plan. If you like your health care plan, you keep your health care plan. If you like your doctor, you keep seeing your doctor.

WITT: When you heard these words, did you know that what the president was saying may not present the whole picture, and does it matter?

JONATHAN GRUBER: I think that what the president was saying is the vast majority of the picture, it is not technically true for every person. I don't think it matters. The president, if he'd said by and large this is true, it would have been more technically correct. But at the end of the day, the important point is that -- the important point he was trying to make, which is hard to make in a political sound bite, is that for the vast majority of Americans, this law just leaves you alone. And that's what critics of this law miss when they talk about a socialized takeover of our system. If you have employer insurance today or you get your insurance from the government today, you are left alone by this law. The law really only affects the minority of people who don't have insurance or who buy on their own. And among those who buy on their own, some will be forced to buy a more generous plan than they have today. And that's because the plans they have today aren't real insurance and we're going to move them into real insurance. So technically, yes, the president did not focus on the 2 to 3 percent of Americans who will have to buy up their insurance plans because of this law. But I think in the ledger of political overstatements, it's a pretty small one.



***
12:07

WITT: We looked at some numbers, Jonathan, that were released this week and it showed six people signed up for ObamaCare on day one of the launch. Less than 248 enrolled on day two. But let's compare this to the launch of the Massachusetts health care plan, where only 123 people signed up in the first month. By the end of the first year, you had 36,000 people. So, bottom line, you want to reiterate that people just need to employ patience here?

GRUBER: You know, I think we just need to not measure this in days and weeks but months and years. In Massachusetts, I was on the board that implemented the law. We only got a report monthly. I can't tell you how many we signed up the first day because we just didn’t track it. We tracked it monthly. And we recognized that we essentially had a three-year goal of ramping up to full implementation, and that it was going to take time to get there and it was going to ramp up slowly, and it did. And the key date to keep an eye on, Alex, is March 31. That's the date at which people have to be signed – March 31, 2014. That’s the date at which people have to be signed up to avoid the individual mandate. We found in Massachusetts as that date approached, which in our state was December 31, 2007, you saw a huge movement of particularly healthy people into the health insurance system right as that date approached. I think you'll see a similar thing nationally.

***
12:36

WITT: But sir, when you look at the enormity of this project and you look at projects like this in the past the United States has undertaken, I mean, these things don't just happen overnight. And I will tell you that I spoke last hour with Jonathan Gruber, who was the architect not only of RomneyCare, which is what we’ll call it there, for the state of Massachusetts, but also as a key adviser to the president on ObamaCare. And looking at this chart, he absolutely agreed with it -- it came from information he supplied -- where ultimately only about 2 to 3 percent of Americans, which numbers up to maybe 9 million, 6 to 9 million, are those who are going to have to buy potentially more expensive insurance than what they already have to meet the minimum standards as set by ObamaCare. If those are the numbers we're talking about, then surely the vast majority of people are going to be better off.

REP. ROBERT PITTENGER (R-N.C.): Well, as of today, you have vast numbers of people who are signing up for Medicaid, enormous amounts, and are not signing up for ObamaCare. In Oregon, you have zero who have signed up for ObamaCare and huge numbers have signed up for Medicaid. So I think as you look long-term at the sustainability of this program, it's very questionable. Max Baucus has said, you know, it is a train wreck. He's come out even more recently saying that it needs a one-year delay. This needs to be reviewed. These are important numbers. You know, Bill Clinton said a few years ago the year and the days of big government are over. This is the biggest government program that we could ever conceive. And there's a huge gamble out there that the president has made that this nationalization of health care is really going to work.

Paul Bremmer
Paul Bremmer is a Media Research Center News Analysis Division intern.