With friends like these, who needed enemies in 2014?

With friends like these, who needed enemies in 2014?
Economist Jonathan Gruber listens during a House Oversight Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 9. Gruber, whose remarks on Obamacare drew criticism from Republicans, apologized to lawmakers for being "glib, thoughtless and sometimes downright insulting." (Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg)

In soccer it's called an "own goal," when a player inadvertently kicks the ball into his own net.

In politics, it's called being Jonathan Gruber.


Gruber, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, did more than any other supporter of the 2010 healthcare law to increase its chances of being repealed. But he's hardly the only one whose words or deeds wound up hurting his own allies.

Here's a short list of the people whose actions in 2014 raised the question, "With friends like these, who needs enemies?"

Jonathan Gruber

As a consultant to the White House and congressional Democrats, Gruber developed the models that projected the positive economic effects of various provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In particular, Gruber's work helped defend the individual mandate to buy insurance and the "Cadillac tax" on high-value health plans.

Then Gruber gave a series of speeches explaining the law, in which he called voters stupid, said the Cadillac tax provision was crafted in a way to mislead the public about its true intention, and declared that Congress intended to withhold subsidies from lower-income residents of states that did not set up their own insurance exchanges.

He has since backtracked vigorously from all those remarks and has apologized for holding himself out as more of an expert than he really was. Nevertheless, his comments have put defenders of the embattled Affordable Care Act in an even tougher position as Republicans, who bitterly oppose the law, assume control of both sides of the Capitol.

Scott Rudin and Amy Pascal

Rudin is the rare Hollywood producer who has collected all four of the entertainment industry's major statuettes (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) while also racking up billions of dollars in ticket sales. And he's long had the reputation of being, erm, "difficult." But after hackers released a slew of emails between Rudin and Sony Pictures Co-Chairman Amy Pascal, gossip-lovers got to see how Rudin talks about the people he works with when they're not listening. And it wasn't pretty.

Pascal didn't come off nearly so badly, with one notable exception: an exchange of racist banter with Rudin about President Obama's taste in movies. And to think Pascal contributed a small fortune to Obama's reelection campaign.

President Obama

Obama loves to campaign so much, critics say he's had trouble knowing when to stop campaigning and start leading. But in 2014, most of Obama's fellow Democrats didn't want him venturing into their states, let alone tagging along with them on the trail.

That's because Republicans were trying to make every congressional race a referendum on Obama, and the president's popularity was taking a beating. A spate of bad news on the international front didn't help. Nor did consumers' pessimism about the economy. The GOP strategy paid off, with Republicans gaining control of the Senate by a comfortable margin while padding their majority in the House.

LeBron James

The best basketball player on the planet is not the most resolute of teammates. Four years after jilting the Cleveland Cavaliers to pursue championships with two other top players on the Miami Heat, James announced in July that he would return to the Cavaliers to pursue championships with two different standouts.


Sure, basketball is a business, and league MVPs have switched teams in the past (although more often at the tail end of their career, not their prime). But tell that to Miami Heat fans, who acutely felt the pain that Cavalier fans felt when James took his talents to South Beach.

Sen. Ted Cruz

The junior Republican senator from Texas established his "with friends like these" credentials in 2013, when he engineered the government shutdown that drove the public's dislike of the GOP to new heights. Lucky for Cruz, the Obama administration's bungled launch of the federal insurance exchange late last year shifted the public's scorn to a new target.

Cruz reasserted himself as the master of the Pyrrhic victory a few weeks ago, using procedural tactics to prevent the Senate from completing its final piece of work for the year -- a funding bill for the rest of fiscal 2015 -- on Dec. 12. Instead, it stayed in session over the weekend, disrupting senators' plans and enabling Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to tee up votes on a series of controversial Obama nominees. Cruz insists that Reid would have kept the Senate in session to vote on the nominees regardless; his critics argue that Cruz bought Reid the extra days he needed to cut off filibusters on Obama's most controversial picks. Either way, the Senate confirmed nearly 60 nominees on Dec. 16.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Lawmakers were stunned by a CNN report in April that a VA hospital in Phoenix had kept false records that covered up how long vets had to wait for treatment, and that at least 40 had died before they could get care. Similar reports then surfaced around the country, leading to investigations at more than two dozen VA facilities.

What made the situation particularly outrageous is that the VA was established for the sole purpose of treating veterans. By hiding its failure from the public, the VA prevented lawmakers from addressing the problem. Congress eventually did take up the issue, pouring more money into the agency and allowing more vets to obtain care outside the logjammed system.

David King, Douglas Hurst and Brenda Levy

King, Hurst and Levy are the plaintiffs in a lawsuit that contends health premium subsidies should not be available in states with federally managed insurance exchanges. If they win, the three Virginia residents -- all in their early 60s, with moderate incomes -- will cause millions of low- to moderate-income Americans to lose their insurance subsidies.


With friends like those....

The trio are essentially standing up for the right not to buy comprehensive insurance coverage. They say in their lawsuit that the subsidies make a comprehensive policy affordable for them, and so if they don't buy one, they'll be hit with a tax penalty. The legal issue -- whether the administration effectively rewrote the law or merely made a reasonable interpretation of a confusing provision -- is interesting. But the potential harm to those who need insurance but can't afford it without subsidies is staggering. The Supreme Court is expected to decide the case by the end of June.

The House GOP

Fed up with Obama stretching the boundaries of executive authority, House Republicans filed a lawsuit challenging two actions by the administration that they say were contrary to law. But if they win, they won't be doing their constituents any favors.

One of the actions the GOP is challenging is the administration's decision to fund subsidies that the Affordable Care Act mandates to help low-income Americans pay their health plan's deductibles and co-payments. As in the King case, cutting off those subsidies would make it hard, if not impossible, for millions of Americans to afford healthcare.

The other action being challenged is the one- to two-year delay the administration imposed on the employer mandate (that is, the requirement that businesses with 50 or more full-time employees provide affordable health insurance to their workers). The delay came as a relief to many employers, and besides, the GOP opposes the mandate. Yet its legal position is to rush the mandate into effect as soon as possible.


Follow Jon Healey's intermittent Twitter feed @jcahealey.