Typical among them was MIT health care expert Jonathan Gruber. The folks at the Competitive Enterprise Institute found video of him in 2012 arguing that all or most states would create their own exchanges because they wouldn't get subsidies if they let the federal government run their exchanges. That was just a "speako" (the oral equivalent of a typo), Gruber replied.
And Phil Kerpen of American Commitment published New Republic health care maven Jonathan Cohn writing in 2010 that "a state could opt out of the exchanges" but added that it's "not something I've looked into that closely."
Yet people like Gruber, Cohn and columnist E. J. Dionne attacked the D.C. Circuit's Halbig v. Burwell decision, which, quoting the statute's language, ruled that subsidies can't be paid in states with federal exchanges, as "judicial activism," based on a typo.
And White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, not evidently a legal scholar, explained, Congress wanted to give lots of people lots of money, so who cares what the law says?
But on reflection I decided that there's something other than blatant dishonesty and political hackery going on here. It's something that discredits Obamacare in particular and big government enterprises generally more than run-of-the-mill partisan dishonesty.
Cohn in 2010 and Gruber in 2012 evidently really believed that almost all states would set up their own exchanges because their residents would get more money than if the feds ran the exchange.
That's how federal powers have increased over the years. Congress can't order states to adopt policies, but it can dangle money in front of them if they meet certain conditions. That's how we got the 21-year-old drinking age even though the 22nd Amendment recognizes states' powers to regulate alcohol.
As Cohn notes, that's how Medicaid, passed in 1965, worked, too. Forty-nine states signed on by 1972. Only Arizona held out until 1982.
So why did 36 states refuse to create their own health exchanges? One reason is that Obamacare turned out to be massively unpopular. Another is that conservative policy experts argued it would weaken the law.
Most important, setting up health exchanges is hard to do. Government doesn't handle information technology well, here or around the world.