Lately the Congressional Budget Office just can’t get any respect. Republicans from the White House on down have worked to discredit the nonpartisan agency, in an effort to undermine its inconvenient findings that GOP health care bills would cause more than 20 million people to lose their insurance.
Now all eight former directors of the agency, some of them Republicans and some Democrats, have signed onto a letter defending CBO and urging lawmakers to give it the respect it deserves.
“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,” the former directors say in their letter Friday to the top Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate.
CBO is a nonpartisan agency and acts as Congress’ official scorekeeper, analyzing the costs and impacts of the bills lawmakers write. Most major legislation does not come to a vote without a CBO “score” and these scores can be consequential in serving as the bottom line analysis of the impact a bill will have.
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CBO directors are approved by the House and Senate leaders. The current director, Keith Hall, was chosen by Republican Tom Price, who is now secretary of Health and Human Services but previously chaired the budget committee in the House. Price made the selection and it was blessed by the top Capitol Hill GOP leaders at the time. Hall has served since 2015.
Nevertheless, in recent months Republicans have not liked what CBO has had to say about the GOP’s legislation to repeal and replace “Obamacare.” The biggest headlines have been the large numbers of consumers who would lose insurance under the GOP plans, plus the higher premiums for older Americans that would result.
Many congressional Republicans have pointed out that CBO’s predictions sometimes don’t prove accurate. In one example Republicans often cite, the agency overestimated the number of Americans who would gain health coverage on the purchasing exchanges created by Obamacare.
Two Trump White House officials, legislative director Marc Short and Brian Blase, special assistant to the president for the National Economic Council, went so far as to write an opinion piece in the Washington Post earlier this month pre-butting the agency’s findings about Senate health care legislation. The estimates “will be little more than fake news” the two claimed.
The sitting leadership of the CBO does not respond to such attacks. But in an unusual move the past leadership got together to fight back.
In their letter the former directors defended the agency’s approach and the high quality of its research, while noting that a law’s outcome over time can be difficult to predict in a dynamic economy.
“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,” they conclude. “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.