‘Terminate Gruber,’ Vermont minority leader says


TERMINATE: Vermont Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning is calling on Gov. Peter Shumlin to terminate the $400,000 contract between MIT professor Jonathan Gruber and the state.

By Bruce Parker | Vermont Watchdog

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Vermont Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning is calling on Gov. Peter Shumlin to terminate the contract of Jonathan Gruber following the release of videos showing the MIT professor intentionally deceived the public in drafting the Affordable Care Act.

“I join with my Senate colleague, Sen. Kevin Mullin, in urging the governor to terminate his contract,” Benning, R-Caledonia, told Vermont Watchdog. “If the powers that be attempted to trick them like that, then those people should be immediately removed from positions of authority, be they elected officials or hired contractors.”

Benning is the second member of the Vermont Senate to call for Gruber’s termination. Last week, Mullin, R-Rutland, a member of the Health Care Oversight Committee, told Vermont Watchdog the governor should “terminate his contract immediately.”

Over the weekend, Lawrence Miller, chief of health care reform for the Shumlin administration, announced Gruber would continue to serve as financing consultant for single-payer health care.

According to the contract obtained from the Agency of Administration, Vermont is paying Gruber $400,000 for “policy expertise, research, and economic modeling related to the implementation of Green Mountain Care.” Gruber’s work will be presented to the Legislature on Jan. 15.

In a series of self-incriminating videos that surfaced last week, Gruber called government secrecy “a huge political advantage,” saying parts of Obamacare were written in “a tortured way” to make sure the public didn’t understand the mandate as taxes.

According to statements made at the University of Pennsylvania in 2013, Gruber said Obamacare would not have passed if the public received truthful information about the bill. The economist said his efforts to obfuscate the bill were justified because he “would rather have this law than not.”

State Rep. Cynthia Browning, D-Arlington, said Vermont’s single-payer health care law also would not have passed if the public had been told the truth about its cost.

“Gruber was involved in the original study by Dr. (William) Hsiao. The Legislature and the governor pushed for passage of Act 48 even though it did not have a financing plan. Dr. Hsiao’s report had possible financing plans, but the governor chose not to specify a financing plan. If he had, that bill would not have passed,” Browning told Vermont Watchdog.

“They’re being practical politicians, and the ends justify the means, according to them,” she said.

According to Act 48, the governor was required to provide the Legislature with a plan for financing single-payer health care by January 2013. When Shumlin chose not to comply with the law, Browning filed a public records request in March 2014, and later sued when the governor claimed executive privilege.

“The governor keeps saying, ‘We don’t have a plan.’ He may not have the final plans, but alternative plans exist, and professor Gruber is using them, and I think those should be shared with Vermonters,” Browning said.

Browning said Gruber was provided with draft financing plans to do his economic modeling work for the state.

Gruber has received at least $5.9 million for his work as government policy adviser. The economist reportedly has contracts with at least eight states. In addition to Vermont’s contract, Gruber has lucrative contracts with Michigan ($481,050), Minnesota ($329,000) and Wisconsin ($400,000).

According to the Washington Post, Gruber is in high demand because his proprietary Gruber Microsimulation Model is similar to the model used by the highly influential Congressional Budget Office — a group Gruber tricked. In the 2013 video shot at the University of Pennsylvania, Gruber said he had to “make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes,” adding, “If the CBO scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies.”

According to Vermont’s contract, Gruber will “use the Gruber Microsimulation Model (GMSIM) to simulate the implementation of Green Mountain Care and related tax changes and assess the impacts on the economy.”

When asked if Vermont lawmakers could trust that Gruber’s upcoming recommendations wouldn’t be deceptive or fraudulent, Benning said he would not “assume that he would not be forthright and honest in making specific recommendations to the Legislature.”

Nevertheless, the senator blasted the secrecy that has characterized the financing of Green Mountain Care.

“This state and country are meant to be transparent governments. No member of this state or country’s governments, or contractors associated therewith, should circumvent the public process when creating laws,” Benning said. “Even if he were to be honest and forthright in his recommendations, his behavior has clouded any appearance of trustworthiness, and it is for that reason alone that I believe his contract should be terminated.”

Browning said she couldn’t explain why the Superior Court judge hasn’t ruled on her lawsuit against the Shumlin administration, but found it “very disappointing.”

When asked if Gruber’s views against government transparency may have influenced Shumlin’s decision to conceal his financing plans, she said, “The governor and the legislative majority are the ones who endorsed this approach. Whether it was Gruber’s idea or not I don’t know, but it’s extremely disappointing, and it means that anything they come out with is probably going to be compromised in the eyes of Vermonters.”

“You need to be clear about what you’re doing. And if people can’t support the benefits of a program and the way you’re going to pay for it, you can’t do it,” Browning said.

Contact Bruce Parker at bparker@watchdog.org