breaking news

Goodman loses appeal for DUI manslaughter conviction

AP Explains: CBO's independent views can rankle lawmakers


The Congressional Budget Office is a scorekeeper suddenly in the spotlight. 

Monday's estimate of the House GOP's health care measure gave ammunition to Democratic critics of the law, predicting that 14 million people would lose insurance next year. Republicans had been bracing for the report, with some of them attacking CBO as being inaccurate in past assessments. 

The obscure but respected agency, established under the 1974 budget act, provides cost estimates of legislation, baseline projections of the federal budget and its components, and independent economic and deficit statistics for lawmakers. 

It's counterweight to the Office of Management and Budget, which is part of a Democratic or Republican White House. 

Trump administration officials and some congressional Republicans preemptively criticized CBO ahead of its assessment of the cost and coverage in the Republican replacement to the Affordable Care Act. 

What you need to know about the CBO: 

Respected, not infallible 

CBO is respected for the nonpartisan rigor its 200-plus employees put into the 600 or so official cost estimates it performs each year — and the thousands of informal estimates it provides as committees draft legislation. But it's hardly infallible, especially when considering large, complex and far-ranging legislation like the Affordable Care Act. 

The agency's estimates, for instance, significantly overstated the number of people who would buy insurance on state and federal exchanges under the law, in part because it thought the individual mandate and accompanying tax penalties would be more effective in forcing people to buy insurance. 

"Predicting the effects of large policy changes is always difficult, but CBO's predictions for the (Affordable Care Act) in 2010 were much more accurate than the predictions of many Republican opponents of the law," said former agency chief Doug Elmendorf, who was appointed by Democrats. 

The agency was also way off in the early 2000s when it predicted large long-term budget surpluses that eased the way for large tax cuts in the George W. Bush era. 

A new sheriff in town 

Even as Republicans attack the referee, it should be remembered that they hired the referee. CBO Director Keith Hall, a conservative economist, was selected two years ago by Republican Tom Price, then the chairman of the House Budget Committee and now the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Hall had been a critic of the Affordable Care Act and increasing the minimum wage. He has overseen an increase, long-sought by Republicans, in the use of "dynamic scoring" — in which the economic effects of tax changes and other policies are incorporated into CBO's analysis. CBO, for instance, has said Obama's health law has had a dampening effect on labor force participation and would slightly reduce growth. 

But CBO also disagrees with those who characterize "Obamacare" as in a "death spiral" and predicts that this year's big jumps in insurance premiums — averaging 21 percent nationwide — are actually likely to stabilize going forward with increases of 5 to 6 percent. That's because companies have been getting better information about the demographic traits of their customers. 

In Monday's report, CBO said the insurance market "would probably be stable in most areas under either current law or the legislation." 

Where you sit determines where you stand 

Criticism of the CBO is hardly new, but it is unusual to be coming from top officials like White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, who said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" that "estimating the impact of a bill of this size probably isn't the best use of (the CBO's) time." That remark sparked criticism from agency defenders on social media sites, where Peter Orszag, a former director of both the CBO and the Office of Management and Budget under President Barack Obama, wrote, "The former OMB and CBO director in me is speechless." 

But complaining about bad scores is nothing new. Democrats complained when drafting Obamacare; Republicans are carping now. 

"For more than 40 years, we've produced independent analysis of budgetary and economic issues," Hall said at a news conference in January. "The feedback I've always gotten is that we in general have a very strong reputation for our work. We try very, very hard to be independent and nonpartisan."


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Politics

Lawsuit challenges secrecy of White House advisers on infrastructure
Lawsuit challenges secrecy of White House advisers on infrastructure

A nonprofit group filed suit against President Donald Trump on Tuesday, claiming that he illegally convened an advisory council to develop a plan to overhaul the nation’s infrastructure without the required public disclosures.   The lawsuit by Food and Water Watch, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, also names Elaine Chao,...
Trump finds reason for the U.S. to remain in Afghanistan: Minerals
Trump finds reason for the U.S. to remain in Afghanistan: Minerals

 President Donald Trump, searching for a reason to keep the United States in Afghanistan after 16 years of war, has latched on to a prospect that tantalized previous administrations: Afghanistan’s vast mineral wealth, which his advisers and Afghan officials have told him could be profitably extracted by Western companies.   Trump...
Trump erroneously says Lebanon is ‘on the front lines’ fighting Hezbollah, a partner in the Lebanese government
Trump erroneously says Lebanon is ‘on the front lines’ fighting Hezbollah, a partner in the Lebanese government

President Donald Trump lumped the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah among militants and terrorists he praised the government of Lebanon for fighting, saying during Rose Garden remarks Tuesday that the tiny Mideast nation was "on the front lines" of a shared battle against extremism.   The only problem? Hezbollah is a political partner...
IT staffer for Wasserman Schultz arrested; former part-timer for Ted Deutch, other Dems
IT staffer for Wasserman Schultz arrested; former part-timer for Ted Deutch, other Dems

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, in 2015. A congressional information technology staffer who has done work for U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, and several other Democrats was arrested on a bank fraud charge this week after months of investigation into the...
Manafort gives notes from Trump Tower meeting to Senate panel staffers
Manafort gives notes from Trump Tower meeting to Senate panel staffers

  Paul Manafort, who served as a top aide to President Trump's 2016 campaign, on Tuesday provided congressional investigators notes he took during a Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer that has emerged as a focus in the investigation of Russian interference in the election.   Manafort's submission, which came as he was interviewed...
More Stories