October 26, 2021

Gruber’s Pathetic Congressional Testimony

Gruber’s Pathetic Congressional Testimony

An old Soviet joke had men carrying briefcases marching alongside tanks and soldiers in a Kremlin parade. “Why are those men in a military parade?” a boy innocently asks his father. He replies, “Those are the economists. They are the most dangerous of all.”

MIT economist Jonathan Gruber’s factually impoverished testimony on Obamacare didn’t get nearly the attention it should have, as congressional Democrats cleverly decided to release a report on CIA torture abuses on the same day. Gruber’s stonewalling about videos in which he boasted that the “stupidity” of the American people and their “lack of transparency” had been the key to passing Obamacare was buried deep inside major papers and ignored by the next morning’s network-TV shows. John Harwood of CNBC dismissed his testimony: “I’m sorry, Gruber is a nothingburger and always has been.” Mark Halperin of Bloomberg News chimed in: “This has been a sideshow. . . . It has no impact whatsoever.”

#a#Halperin will be right if journalists continue to look the other way and fail to probe more deeply into the issues Gruber has raised. The lack of curiosity many of them display about a witness who used variations of “I don’t recall” 20 times during his testimony is remarkable. One journalist explained to me that many of his colleagues have bought into the liberal argument that Gruber was just a bit player in the Obamacare spectacle, even though many journalists played up his role just a few years ago. “He’s not a legislator. He’s not a staff guy. He’s like 300 million other Americans who can have their opinion,” now sniffs Jay Angoff, a Department of Health and Human Services official who worked on implementing the health-care legislation.

Everyone behind Obamacare appears desperate to deflect attention away from Gruber. It’s like the scene in Star Wars where Obi-Wan Kenobi uses an old Jedi mind trick to convince adversaries they’re going down the wrong path: “Those aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”

In fact, Gruber was the most influential economist advising Congress and the Congressional Budget Office on how to score the budget impact of Obamacare. Back in 1994, CBO helped sink HillaryCare when it prudently pointed out that an individual health-insurance mandate imposed costs on the American people that should be reflected in the federal budget as a tax. But Peter Orszag, the director of the CBO from 2007 to 2009 until he became President Obama’s budget chief, engineered a policy reversal that decided not to count the individual mandate’s costs as part of the federal budget. That explains Gruber’s famous confession at the University of Pennsylvania last year that Obamacare “was written in a tortured way to make sure that the CBO did not score the mandate as taxes. If CBO scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies.”

Gruber has direct knowledge of this subterfuge because through 2010 he served on the Panel of Health Advisers to the CBO, even though in his testimony this week he couldn’t remember exactly when he was on the panel. He was also at the same time working under contract for the Obama administration, although he often concealed his role when promoting Obamacare with reporters, describing himself as “an independent expert.” As a Wall Street Journal editorial points out, “Gruber appears to have been sitting on both sides of the table as the CBO made this crucial decision. It isn’t clear how much interaction he had with the staff at CBO, but did this association afford him insights that helped Democrats draft a deceptive bill that avoided acknowledging that it included a tax?”