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Republicans Should Respond To GruberGate By Cleaning House At CBO

Douglas Elmendorf, Director of the Congressional Budget Office, takes part in a panel discussion during the Fiscal Forum meeting at the IMF as part of the IMF World Bank spring meetings in Washington, D.C., Thursday April 14, 2011. IMF Photograph/Cliff Owen

So long as Doug Elmendorf leads CBO and employs Gruber’s methodology, free market health care policies are effectively DOA. It’s time to clean house at CBO.

What a week this has been for Jonathan Gruber, as a deluge of videos have illustrated his many varied public comments on the deceptions of Obamacare. Here’s an excellent supercut from Phil Kerpen of the various comments from political supporters of Obamacare denying Gruber’s existence and relevance to the creation of Obamacare.

Even as a handful of officials admit Gruber’s critical role in creating Obamacare’s framework and more, some on the left are still trying to deny his various manic and stupefying statements admitting his role in creating the legislation’s smoke and mirrors structure. It’s hard for this role to be diminished when we have records of how often he was visiting the White House at the time. But people are trying to do it anyway.

What’s amazing about this denialism – on the part of the President and everyone else – is that, as Sen. Max Baucus acknowledges in the above clip, Gruber didn’t just design the framework of the law – Gruber also gave the Congressional Budget Office the model they used to score the law’s outcomes. Indeed, he was an academic advisor to the CBO at the time, and two of his graduate students worked on the scoring!

Two well-placed sources on Capitol Hill say that the Congressional Budget Office effectively used Jonathan Gruber’s model to score Obamacare.  That model favors government mandates over market competition and claims that essentially the only way to achieve a large reduction in the number of uninsured Americans is to impose an Obamacare-like individual mandate.  Moreover, because the model that the CBO used in scoring Obamacare is the same one it uses today, any alternative to Obamacare that doesn’t include an individual mandate — which is to say, any conservative alternative — would be scored by the CBO as falling well short, in terms of coverage numbers, of Gruber’s preferred legislation.

Gruber helped design the structure of the law, and then helped it pass muster with the gatekeepers at the CBO to help get the Democrats the answers they wanted on what it would do to deficits, coverage rates, and more. That model is still the same one they’re using today.

Gruber’s unfortunate honesty about Obamacare’s falsified process has attracted political attention. But the question now becomes, what should Republicans on Capitol Hill do about it?

First, they should tackle the problem where it matters – which isn’t with Gruber, but the other player in this drama, who’s attracted less attention thus far: CBO chief Doug Elmendorf, who employed Gruber’s model and his students and was sitting in the Oval Office meeting with President Obama, David Axelrod, and Gruber himself discussing the scoring of the law as the White House worked to massage CBO’s views. Elmendorf’s fans have been working hard since the election to try to push for his retention, and he has recently been supported by economists Greg Mankiw and AEI’s Alan Viard and Michael Strain.

Republicans on Capitol Hill are unlikely to listen to them, though, because they understand that by supporting Elmendorf, you are supporting Gruber. Elmendorf’s reappointment will mean that Gruber’s deceptive modeling methods will be retained, and the games CBO has played with Obamacare under Elmendorf will continue. What does that mean for any free market replacement for Obamacare? It will mean that it is scored according to Gruber and Elmendorf’s deceptive practices, which have continued in the years since its passage. So long as Elmendorf leads CBO and employs Gruber’s methodology, free market health care policies are effectively DOA – no one should have confidence in the ability or interest of CBO to score them fairly. It’s time to clean house.

There is no justification whatsoever for job security for Obama’s CBO director in the wake of Gruber’s comments. But neither should Gruber feel secure about his standing. Here’s an idea from a smart friend: subpoena Gruber’s code, software, and any and all documentation about the assumptions for his microsimulation model. This was the basis of Gruber’s estimates, which were used by the Senate Finance Committee used to claim Obamacare would lower premiums. By opening this up, we can finally see how Gruber’s assumptions informed the Congressional Budget Office’s score, and it would allow external experts to compare Gruber’s modeling to their own assumptions about Obamacare’s performance. If you want transparency on fiscal predictions for health care reform, we need access to Gruber’s Black Box, which he has been selling at a hefty price to taxpayers in states across the country.

It’s clear we can’t trust Gruber to be honest about the assumptions and key elements of his model. If we ask him, he’ll probably just lie. The only way to compare his model to others and tease out the assumptions it used to get to the truth is to open up the black box. That this subpoena would have the added benefit of making such a program open-source and therefore end the taxpayer funded gravy train would be, let’s say, the price of Gruber’s ongoing deception.

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