Saturday, April 18, 2015

Repost: A Dose Of Honesty: Jonathan Gruber's Retroactive Confessions

Previously posted on November 20, 2014 as a Facebook note, but I'm slowly migrating a lot of this sort of thing out here onto the blog for formatting and search reasons.

Americans owe Jonathan Gruber a considerable debt for his unintentional honesty about both the means of drafting that law, his role in it, and the endgame -- particularly the destruction of the medical insurance tax deduction, which occurred as a consequence of tying the threshold for the "Cadillac tax" to CPI inflation rather than medical cost inflation. That he was one of the bill's chief architects now is hotly debated by Nancy Pelosi, who suddenly has trouble remembering his name. But not only was he an "adviser", he was much more than that at the time:
Yes, Gruber was an adviser, as Obama describes him, but that significantly understates his role. In addition to the nearly $400,000 he received from the administration (more than Obama's senior staff earns annually), his work was cited repeatedly by the administration as evidence for the law, and Gruber participated in high-level discussions with the president himself about what policies the law should include.

When the bill was being scored by the Congressional Budget Office, Gruber was one of just three outside economists summoned toan Oval Office meeting with the president and CBO director Douglas Elmendorf to look for ways to adjust the law in order to receive a better score, according to The Washington Post. That discussion, Gruber later said in a 2012 PBS documentary on the creation of the law, "became the genesis of what is called the Cadillac tax in the health care bill." Gruber also visited with senior administration officials at the White House on several other ocassions [sic], according to visitor logs.
Gruber's most infamous moment might be expressing the contempt in which he obviously holds the electorate (the subterfuge he and the Democrats foisted on the public were necessary because of "the stupidity of the American voter"). Because he exposed the attitude rampant among Democratic apparatchiks toward their base, he had to be diminished, a process continuing in the press this week. Professional Team Blue flacks like the Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik does a particularly poor job of this, one which will be compelling only to Democratic partisans. He wails the standard wail these days "you don't understand insurance" when Avik Roy points out Obamacare is yet another transfer of wealth from the young and poor to the old and richer, following this up with a cynical tu quoque sermon about how bills become law. For a finale, he goes after the Republican straw men of "death panels" while ignoring the meat of real criticism, with a dash of "the Supreme Court has said" the law is Constitutional, conveniently forgetting that National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius was not the only challenge to that law.

In fact, the biggest threat to Obamacare at present comes from King v. Burwell, something noticed by the nearly as disingenuous Ezra Klein:
Gruber's initial comments, which emerged a few months back, appear to support the King v. Burwell case, which argues that subsidies can't flow through the federal exchanges that are being used in 36 states. These comments from Gruber are both truly bizarre, and, because they could give justices some justification for ruling for the plaintiffs, genuinely dangerous to the law.

On these comments, I'll pretty much repeat what I said when they first emerged. They contradict literally everything else we know — including from Gruber.
Which of course is the purest nonsense, but it's what Klein is telling his audience. In the land of Obamacare believers, it is not important what the law actually says, but what its supporters want it to say, even if they change their minds after passage. This is the kind of thinking that alcoholics and other substance abusers rely on: I deny reality and substitute my own. And for obvious reasons, it is extremely dangerous when put into positions of power. The situation is so bad that co-fraud Jonathan Chait was obliged to pretend that a telecommuting Gruber did not really "write" the bill.

Maybe all this will play with the law's believers, but I suspect it has less traction with independent voters.

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