House Lawmakers to CBO Analysts: You’re Fired

Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows, R-S.C., wants to eliminate CBO's analysis shop. Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows, R-S.C., wants to eliminate CBO's analysis shop. AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

With the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office under fire from some Republicans for its recent cost estimates associated with repealing Obamacare, four House lawmakers on Monday invoked a rare budget tool seeking to abolish the agency’s budget analysis shop. The result, if included in a multi-bill appropriations package this week: elimination of 89 agency jobs.

The attack on CBO comes days after eight former directors of the agency, which Congress created in 1974 to serve as its official budget scorekeeper, sent a letter to top leaders in Congress protesting efforts to discredit its analyses.

The amendment offered under the 1876 "Holman Rule"—a controversial provision that was rescinded in 1983 before Republicans reinstated it earlier this year—was sent to the Rules Committee by Reps. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., backed by Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and Scott Perry, R-Pa. The rule allows lawmakers to propose targeted changes in federal employee salaries.

“CBO is meant to help Congress evaluate legislation, but I do not believe the agency as currently constituted can do so effectively,” Griffith said in a statement. “Too often, predictions made by CBO turn out to be far off the mark. For example, it overestimated by millions the number of people who would enroll in the Obamacare exchanges. I have also cited in the past its prediction that a sale of wireless spectrum would be revenue-neutral when the sale in fact earned $40 billion for the government.”

Their alternative to relying on CBO analysts would be make CBO “an aggregator of predictions made by third-party public policy groups across the political spectrum, from left to center to right,” Griffith said.

The move was blasted by a group of Washington-area Democrats, who noted that current CBO Director Keith Hall, a Republican appointee, was praised by GOP lawmakers when he arrived in 2015.

“This is a foolish and unprecedented Republican attack on nonpartisan federal employees in order to pass a bill that would strip healthcare for millions of Americans,” said a joint statement from Reps. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Don Beyer, D-Va., Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., Gerry Connolly, D-Va., Jamie Raskin, D-Md., Anthony Brown, D-Md., and Bobby Scott, D-Va. “This is part of a strategic assault on objectivity and expertise in the civil service. Partisan talking points cannot replace unbiased analysis. Nowhere is this more true than in our budget process. Republicans are losing the game, so now they are trying to fire the refs.”

The extended attacks on CBO’s budgetary impact analysis heard from Republican lawmakers and members of the Trump administration on Friday prompted the letter from all the former CBO directors.

“We write to express our strong objection to recent attacks on the integrity and professionalism of the agency and on the agency’s role in the legislative process,” they said. “To meet the standard of nonpartisan objectivity, CBO makes no recommendations about policy, regularly consults with researchers and practitioners with a wide range of views (as can be seen in the agency’s panels of advisers and reviewers for major studies), and enhances its transparency by releasing extensive descriptions of its analytic techniques and forecast record.

“To produce estimates of high quality, CBO uses its detailed understanding of federal programs and economic conditions, ongoing interactions with government officials and private-sector experts, the best academic research, and the latest available data consistent with the timing of the Congressional budget process,” wrote Douglas Elmendorf, Douglas Holz-Eakin, Alice Rivlin, Rudolph Penner, Dan Crippen, June O’Neill, Peter Orszag and Robert Reischauer.

“In sum, relying on CBO’s estimates in the legislative process has served the Congress — and the American people — very well during the past four decades. As the House and Senate consider potential policy changes this year and in the years ahead, we urge you to maintain and respect the Congress’s decades-long reliance on CBO’s estimates in developing and scoring bills.”

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