Spend­ing bill by House hard-lin­ers tar­gets CBO

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Mike DeBo­nis

Con­ser­va­tive hard-lin­ers in the House are hop­ing to gut the Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice, the non­par­ti­san score­keeper whose anal­y­sis re­cently has be­dev­iled Repub­li­can ef­forts to re­peal the Af­ford­able Care Act, by amend­ing a mas­sive spend­ing bill set to be de­bated this week.

An amend­ment filed Mon­day by Rep. H. Mor­gan Grif­fith, R-Va., would elim­i­nate the agency’s Bud­get Anal­y­sis Divi­sion, cut­ting 89 jobs and $15 mil­lion of the CBO’s pro­posed $48.5 mil­lion bud­get. A sep­a­rate amend­ment filed by Rep. Mark Mead­ows, R-N.C., would elim­i­nate the same divi­sion and spec­ify that the CBO in­stead eval­u­ate leg­is­la­tion “by fa­cil­i­tat­ing and as­sim­i­lat­ing scor­ing data” com­piled by four pri­vate think tanks — the Her­itage Foun­da­tion, the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute, the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion and the Ur­ban In­sti­tute.

Grif­fith and Mead­ows are mem­bers of the hard-right House Free­dom Cau­cus, but com­plaints about the CBO have been wide­spread among Repub­li­cans in re­cent months af­ter the agency found that var­i­ous it­er­a­tions of the party’s health-care leg­is­la­tion would re­sult in an in­crease of more than 20 mil­lion unin­sured Amer­i­cans over the com­ing decade. Crit­ics have at­tacked the CBO’s anal­y­sis and pointed to its pro­jec­tions on the Af­ford­able Care Act as ev­i­dence that the of­fice, now led by a Repub­li­can-se­lected di­rec­tor, can­not be trusted to ac­cu­rately an­a­lyze com­plex leg­is­la­tion.

The crit­i­cism com­pelled the eight for­mer di­rec­tors of the CBO, which was cre­ated in 1974, to sign a let­ter Fri­day ob­ject­ing to “re­cent at­tacks on the in­tegrity and pro­fes­sion­al­ism of the agency and on the agency’s role in the leg­isla­tive process.”

But con­ser­va­tives say the CBO’s score­keep­ing is best left to other out­lets.

“They’re the one group that makes a weath­er­man’s 10-day fore­cast look ac­cu­rate,” said Mead­ows, the Free­dom Cau­cus chair­man. “There’s plenty of think tanks that are out there. And so we ought to take a score from Her­itage, from AEI, from Brook­ings, from the Ur­ban In­sti­tute and bring them to­gether for a com­pos­ite score that would rep­re­sent a very wide swath of think tanks and their abil­i­ties.”

The White House also has at­tacked the CBO’s cred­i­bil­ity as the health-care re­peal ef­fort has lan­guished. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., at times has crit­i­cized the agency’s health-care es­ti­mates, but he also de­fended it from at­tacks last month, telling re­porters that “it’s im­por­tant that we have a ref­eree.”

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