The Gruber Scandal

I recently read Jane Hamsher's lambasting of Jonathan Gruber on this site. I have a different perspective.

I've known Jonathan Gruber for almost 20 years. We've never been to each others' homes or shared a private meal, but our paths have often crossed. We have often disagreed. As an early avowed Obama partisan notably to Jon's left, I tangled with him during the campaign over the individual mandate and other matters. I still disagree with him on various things.

Jonathan supported the key ideas embodied in the Senate bill before the Obama administration did, indeed before there was an Obama administration. Over the entire time I have known him, he has been absolutely consistent--in print, in private and in public--regarding the taxation of health benefits and the impact of such benefits on wages and employment.

His views are shared by the great majority of economists and policy analysts across the political spectrum. As a matter of policy, I disagree with some of the typical resulting positions. I would like to change the proposed "Cadillac tax" to accommodate union concerns, for example. I am a stronger supporter of the public option than he is. In general I would like to see much more generous subsidies than we are likely to see in the final bill.

Ms. Hamsher is right that this contract should have been better-handled. Jonathan was not secretive about this arrangement. He reported it on journal disclosure forms and answered reporters' questions. Without a doubt, everyone involved should have been more proactive and transparent. This imbroglio notwithstanding, everything Jonathan is arguing comes straight from his work and from his writing over many, many years. I'm sure the administration trumpeted his work on employer mandates and tax policy because it is politically congenial. They also trumpeted his work because it influenced their own views of proper public policy. I've been rather reassured that the administration brought him to help crunch the numbers. He has a distinguished track record performing precisely the analyses Congress and the President need done.

I have always found Jonathan to be a person of integrity in my dealings with him, even when we disagree. I will continue to call on him for his candor and expertise. So will many other people who hold very different views. I just wanted my readers to know.

Postscript: I agree with one of my commenters that the assumptions and methods of Gruber's modelling should be open to public view, given the policy importance of the findings and the public financing. I feel the same about CBO's work. It isn't feasible to be completely transparent in real time, but as the dust settles we need to know.