Ever since the White House called the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office head Dough Elmendorf in to a meeting this July, people have speculated about the pressure CBO now faces to score bills as Obama wants them scored.
The question is even more relevant now, as Americans see the CBO release score after score on health care.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who sits on the Senate Finance Committee, told HUMAN EVENTS he thinks the CBO has been fairly courageous in its health care scoring, despite the White House meeting in July.
“I’m concerned — I’m not yet ready to render a judgment on the CBO and its reputation,” Cornyn said. “The CBO is constrained by the product that Congress produces.”
And, so far, there really hasn’t been a full-fledged product on the Democrats’ side. For its latest health care report, the CBO was stuck scoring ‘conceptual’ health care language, which is all the ‘Baucus bill’ really was.
The CBO released an unfavorable preliminary analysis of a draft of Sen. Ted Kennedy’s health care bill in June, estimating it would add $1 trillion over ten years to the deficit. Then came the CBO preliminary score on July 17 of H.R. 3200, one of the main House health bills, which said it would increase the deficit by $239 billion over ten years.
Elmendorf met with the president on July 20.
“It appeared to be a way to try to send a not-too-subtle message to him that, ‘You better work with us on this,’” Cornyn said of the meeting. “But it wasn’t the first, nor probably will it be the last thing inappropriate the White House does.”
In mid-September, CBO released a preliminary analysis of the Baucus health care bill — the one no one wanted — which added to Uncle Sam’s debt over ten years by $49 billion (of course, the number would be bigger if there weren’t $215 billion in taxes on high-premium insurance plans on top of that, so expect your personal deficit goes up). Finally, the CBO revised its report when more was added to the Baucus bill and put the price tag for now at $81 billion over ten years.
Compare this to the Senate Budget committee scoring of the Baucus bill at $1.8 trillion over the same time frame.
“Any suggestion that this is going to come in under a trillion dollars is just ludicrous,” Cornyn said, pointing out that this bill was the most “conservative” of all the health care bills.
Cornyn pointed out that the CBO can’t be blamed for the assumptions or budget tricks Democrats have inserted in bills, such as implementing legislation for six years out of a ten-year budget window. Cornyn said he doesn’t think it’s a lack of integrity on CBO’s part, but rather the assumptions they’ve been asked to make
“So far, I’d say CBO has done a decent job in a very difficult situation,” Cornyn said.
Fox News online reports Democrat leadership in the House has been getting preliminary cost analysis from CBO on the health care bills. Cornyn suspects there are similar conversations in the Senate. Cornyn said that, from what he understands, this isn’t unusual for the majority party, but he’s not entirely comfortable with it.
Cornyn and other Republicans are keeping a watchful eye on CBO. They will play a crucial role in the Obamacare debate’s endgame.