Did HHS help hide Gruber's status as paid shill? Update: "No comment" from Gruber

When MIT economics professor Jonathan Gruber allowed himself to be quoted by numerous media outlets about his sunny analyses of ObamaCare, including a big push by Peter Orszag on his OMB site and in challenging reporters to use Gruber’s conclusions, Gruber never bothered to mention that he was receiving money through HHS to provide consultation on health-care reform.  After Gruber’s exposure, he claimed that few bothered to ask whether he received compensation from the administration and didn’t feel compelled to volunteer the information.  Now two members of the Senate have demanded that kind of disclosure from Gruber.

In a letter sent earlier this week and given to Hot Air by a source in Washington, Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Michael Enzi (R-WY) demand answers to a long series of questions, including why Gruber never revealed this conflict of interest on three occasions when he testified before Congress on health-care reform.  They first accuse Gruber of dishonesty:

We are writing in response to recent news reports that you received nearly $400,000 from HHS in exchange for providing technical assistance in evaluating various health care reform legislative proposals.  During this same time, you have been actively promoting and defending the Administration’s preferred health care reform policies both before Congress and in the media.  This includes your participation in the Finance Committee’s May 12, 2009, Roundtable Discussion entitled “Financing Comprehensive Health Care Reform”; the HELP Committee’s June 11, 2009 hearing entitled “Healthcare Reform”; and the HELP Committee’s Novembver 3, 2009 hearing entitled, “Increasing Health Costs Facing Small Businesses.”  On occasions such as these, it appears that you advanced the Administration’s agenda without disclosing the fact that you were receiving federal remuneration. …

When an academic leader comes before Congress to advocate a position, Congress should have confidence that the witness is both independent and objective and not being paid to assist the Administration in its efforts.  In this case, we are concerned that neither you nor the Department chose to inform Congress of your substantial ties in advance of, during, or any time after, your testimony before the Finance and HELP Committees.  In fact, the biography submitted for the Finance Committee’s Roundtable Discussion makes no mention of these ties or affiliations.

After this, Grassley and Enzi take aim at HHS and the Obama administration for failing to answer questions about outside consultants — answers that would have exposed Gruber as a shill long before being outed:

In July, Senator Enzi write to HHS Secretary Sebelius requesting among other information, a list of all outside consultants with the Department and copies of their agreements.  HHS was unresponsive to this request, which should have revealed your relationship with the Department.  Senator Enzi recently wrote again to reiterate this request to HHS Secretary Sebelius and to ask for additional information concerning your relationship with the Department.  Senator Grassley also wrote to Secretary Sebelis requesting that HHS require any individuals under contract with the Department to disclose that fact publicly prior to any testimony before Congress.  Additionally, Senator Grassley requested that HHS provide a complete list of individuals who are currently under contract, or have been under contract at any point last year, to assist the Department in any aspect of the health care reform process.

So much for increased transparency!  This is an angle that we hadn’t yet seen.  The Republicans on these panels must have had some suspicion that the White House was tossing ringers into these committee meetings and wanted a list of consultants from HHS to spot them.  HHS refused — and now one of those consultants got exposed anyway.

Hopefully Grassley and Enzi will stay on top of this development and find out if HHS or any of the other federal agencies in the Obama administration have more paid shills acting as independent voices supporting their agenda, especially on ObamaCare.

Update: Ben Smith at Politico jumps on this immediately, and gets a “no comment” from Gruber.