OMB director Peter Orszag and MIT economists Jonathan Gruber are both very smart, successful individuals. While I may not agree with them on every policy, that does not mean I don't respect their intelligence. Both have knowledge and perspective to add to the health care debate. The problem is that it turns out they have the exact same insider perspective.
We have recently learned that they are both effectively employees of the Obama administration. Both were heavily invested in shaping the health care bill, and that gives both of them a very strong desire to see it become law. Neither is an outside observer, despite the fact that Jonathan Gruber is allowing himself to be depicted that way in multiple media outlets. Gruber has been quoted in numerous newspaper articles, none of which, to my knowledge, disclosed his connection to the White House. In fact, when directly asked by the Washington Post before writing an Op-Ed on the excise tax if he had any conflict of interest he said no. In reality Gruber, like Orszag was a paid part of the Obama health care team, and his statements should have been treated just like Orszag's.
Gruber was not an objective third party observer, he was an Obama health care team member. This is critically important for judging his public statements. He was financially, professionally, and emotionally invested in actively shaping the health care reform bill. This can't help but affect judgment of the final product. Just like some film directors might be very good movie critics, that does not mean I would not be very skeptical of their personal reviews of their own movies. Do I think the film director is lying because he thinks his film is the best movie ever? No, I don't doubt he honestly believes that the movie he helped make is amazing, but I would very much want someone else’s opinion. Gruber falsely allowed himself to be viewed as an independent movie critic when in reality he was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to help make the film.
Think back to Ron Brownstein's article on cost control. It was heavily based on the statements of Gruber. Do you think Brownstein could have or would have written the same article if he replaced all of Gruber's opinions with Peter Orszag’s? Do you think an article based on Orszag's judgment of the bill would have been as well received, widely circulated, or strongly promoted by the White House as proof of the bill's cost control measures? Clearly, the answer is no, and that is the problem. Those inside the bubble may completely believe what they say, but the problem is that they are inside the bubble. They inherently have blindspots as a result of being part of the team and invested in the outcome. They can't properly judge what they have been paid to work on.
Gruber’s ethnical failing is that he allowed himself to be falsely depicted as an objective outsider judge, which he was not. Even if Gruber believed 100% everything he ever publicly said about the bill, that is not the point. Being a well-paid consultant working on the bill, in itself, can dramatically change one's perspective. You can't be paid well over $400,000 to work on a project, and still objectively judge it as an outsider. Gruber did a serious disservice to the health care debate with his lack of candor. If we wanted an insider's perspective about the bill, we could just ask Peter Orszag. At least then we would honestly know what we were getting.