GOP hypocrisy on the CBO

Repub­li­cans once praised the bud­get of­fice. Then came Oba­macare re­peal.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

“WE’RE GO­ING to have a health care that is far less ex­pen­sive and far bet­ter.” That was Pres­i­dent Trump in Jan­uary. And it is the only sort of pol­icy anal­y­sis the pub­lic would be left with ab­sent the Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice (CBO).

As House Repub­li­cans be­gan work on their Oba­macare re­place­ment plan last week, they avoided ad­dress­ing the like­li­hood that it would sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease the ranks of the unin­sured and dodged ques­tions about its fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity by plow­ing ahead be­fore Congress’s staff ex­perts at the CBO had a chance to es­ti­mate the pro­posal’s ef­fects. In the ab­sence of sober-minded anal­y­sis, Repub­li­cans of­fered tricky rhetoric about ex­pand­ing choice and free­ing the mar­ket.

But they can avoid fac­ing up to the neg­a­tive con­se­quences of their plan for only so long: The CBO will soon is­sue a re­port on their pro­posal, prob­a­bly this week. So Repub­li­cans pre­emp­tively at­tacked the coun­try’s des­ig­nated bud­get score­keep­ers. “If you’re look­ing to the CBO for ac­cu­racy, you’re look­ing in the wrong place,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer in­veighed. House Ma­jor­ity Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) sneered at the of­fice’s “un­elected bu­reau­crats.” Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) de­clared that “CBO has scored every­thing wrong for­ever, so they’re a mi­nor con­cern.” Th­ese at­tacks are be­yond galling. The CBO is run by an econ­o­mist Repub­li­cans hand-se­lected after Tom Price — then the Bud­get Com­mit­tee chair­man, now Mr. Trump’s health and hu­man ser­vices sec­re­tary — called for re­plac­ing the well-re­spected pre­vi­ous di­rec­tor. Their choice, Keith Hall, has over­seen the move to­ward “dy­namic scor­ing,” which makes Repub­li­can tax cuts seem less costly. But not to­ward rank re­al­ity-de­nial, which is what it would take to swal­low some of the claims Repub­li­cans have made about re­peal­ing and re­plac­ing Oba­macare.

The GOP hypocrisy is mind-blow­ing. Over the past two decades, CBO is per­haps best known for analy­ses that put a stamp of bud­getary re­spon­si­bil­ity on Oba­macare, but also pa­pers that en­abled Repub­li­cans to cut taxes dur­ing the Ge­orge W. Bush years and, later, to slam Pres­i­dent Obama on the long-term debt pic­ture. Time after time, Repub­li­cans had noth­ing but praise for the of­fice’s “non­par­ti­san” work. They were quick to cite the CBO when it con­cluded that some peo­ple would will­ingly work less un­der Oba­macare.

Repub­li­cans’ lat­est vol­leys would hardly be the first par­ti­san at­tacks the CBO has sus­tained. But, in the midst of Mr. Trump’s wide as­sault on in­sti­tu­tions that ar­bi­trate fac­tual dis­putes and pro­vide un­bi­ased in­for­ma­tion, their con­dem­na­tion is not just odious, but dan­ger­ous, too.

The CBO, of course, will not pro­vide per­fect pre­dic­tions about the ef­fects of com­plex poli­cies in a big econ­omy. But its pro­jec­tions about the new health-care leg­is­la­tion will be far more in­formed than oth­ers’ — Mr. Trump’s, for ex­am­ple.

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