When a defence is worse than the attack: Brad DeLong edition.

OK, so there\’s been a kerfluffle about Jonathan Gruber. World class health economist was being paid by the Obama admin while he was writing Op/Eds supporting Obamacare and not revealing such payments.

Over here of course that\’s entirely normal: in US style journalism it\’s considered one of the great sins, not declaring interests.

OK, well, Brad DeLong defends it all:

Jon Gruber is not a \”consultant\” or \”strategist\” who gets bribed by a political party or a government. Jon Gruber is, instead, an MIT health economics professor whom HHS hired to run a whole bunch of people whose job it was to mirror CBO–to carry out the analytical work on health proposals to tell HHS in advance what CBO was likely to say would be the budgetary implications of different pieces of health care. Gruber is best in the business at this: if you asked me what Doug Elmendorf and his team at CBO were likely to think, and if I couldn\’t reach Elmendorf, I would ask Gruber. It was a very good thing that HHS hired Gruber to run a team to do this.

One of those cases where the defence might actually be worse than the original attack.

A little background. Getting the CBO to score legislation is one of these odd little bits of the American political scene. If CBO says x will reduce the deficit, or that y will increase it, then everyone can, with a straight face (whatever the actual truth of the matter) claim that x will reduce the deficit and y will increase it.

You can see the importance of this process in health care insurance reform. Trying to \”bend the cost curve\” and reduce future deficits, as is often claimed for the reforms on the table, would be a difficult thing to claim success at if the CBO were to say that actually this was going to increase health care costs and increase the deficit.

So knowing how the CBO would score a particular line or proposal in advance is really rather important.

And it is exactly this sort of thing which has led to some of the mishmash (apologies, I might get details wrong here but the basics are about right) in the reform proposals. For example, the CBO scores things on a 10 year horizon. So health care reform brings in the extra taxes and charges a few years before it starts paying out the extra benefits. On a 10 year horizon such reduces the deficit. In the longer term however the extra benefits are likely to be much larger than the extra taxes and charges leading to a growth in the deficit over that longer term.

Similarly, the CBO scores things on what the legislation actually says. Not on what is likely to happen. So the proposals say that there will be a 20-25% reduction in reimbursement to doctors and hosptials for Medicare (or is it Medicaid?) treatments. Such proposals have been around before and they\’ve never actually taken place, even if they\’ve been put into legislation. No one really believes that such cuts will take place at their scheduled date in the future either. But because they\’re in the legislation the CBO scores then as if they will indeed happen.

So, what Gruber was hired to do was to front run the CBO and thus teach those writing the details of the legislation how to game the CBO process.

In short, how to lie to get the CBO thumbs up.

Which part of this is worse is really up to your opinion. Personally, I think the defence of righteously gaming the supposedly impartial part of the legislative process against the attack of writing Op/Eds without declaring an interest to be worse than that original attack. But maybe that\’s just me.

5 thoughts on “When a defence is worse than the attack: Brad DeLong edition.”

  1. That is simply wrong. You will observe that Gruber is not an advocate of the “doc fix.”

    I don’t know why the hell you are claiming he is…

  2. Run along, Brad… Fantasyland is slipping; Bambi Obama and Paul Krugman need all the help you can give them.

    Remember, DeLong gave Bambi Obama a “B+” for his handling of the economy. That puts him in Richard Murphy territory when it comes to having a grip on reality.


  3. Brad DeLong:

    Since you’ve volunteered half-way by defending
    Gruber’s attempted non-partisan disinterestedness, I think it only fair that you, yourself, go on record.

    If it had been you, writing on the same topic from Gruber’s position, would you have (or not, as the case might be) felt obliged to reveal your connection to the policies in general?”

    Or, to put it in Dennis’ practical parlance, “are you now or have you ever been, a WGCE?”

    And we all know what the meaning of “is” is.

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