Yesterday, Paul Krugman defended Jonathan Gruber’s failure to disclose his consulting contract by saying:
Gruber’s grant is from HHS, not the West Wing; it’s basically the same kind of thing as, say, an epidemiologist receiving a grant from the National Institutes of Health. You wouldn’t ordinarily say that this tarnishes the epidemiologist’s credentials as an independent analyst on infectious diseases, unless you want to say that nobody receiving a research grant can be considered independent.
But last night Gruber appeared on The News Hour, and here’s how Gwen Ifil introduced him:
“For more on the pros and the cons of the so-called Cadillac tax, we turn to Jonathan Gruber, a health economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — he is also a paid consultant to the Obama administration — and Josh Bivens, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank that receives some money from labor groups.”
I guess when Gruber’s contract called for him to render “technical assistance” on “the President’s health reform proposal,” that’s what it meant.
Ron Brownstein’s article in late November contained Gruber’s evaluation of the Senate health care bill, to the effect that “you couldn’t have done better than they are doing.” Gruber told Brownstein that “it’s really hard to figure out how to bend the cost curve, but I can’t think of a thing to try that they didn’t try…everything is in here.”
Of course, as Jon Walker noted at the time, that’s a laughable claim. The CBO determined that the public option — which Gruber waves off as “much ado about little” — would have saved $110 billion. Mandating that Medicare providers take part in the public option? Another $91 billion. Medicare reimbursement rates would have saved another $50 billion.
Drug reimportation would’ve saved consumers another $100 billion over ten years at the very least, but that wasn’t part of the White House’s sweetheart PhRMA deal and thus not in the bill. Neither was negotiation for Medicare prescription drug prices. At one point Krugman himself called the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act, which prohibited such negotiation, “a deeply irresponsible bill that included huge giveaways to drug and insurance companies.” In the same article he said “a plan without a public option to hold down insurance premiums would cost taxpayers more than a plan with such an option.”
Maybe Krugman is right and Gruber’s imagination would have been equally constrained if he had not been a White House consultant. But when Krugman says “it’s hard to think of who else could be doing the work better” than Gruber, he may be overlooking a few things himself in order to defend his own part in “the progressive backlash against the progressive backlash.”