Former CBO Leaders Ask Lawmakers to Stop Bad-Mouthing the Agency

  • Former directors express ‘strong objection’ to attacks
  • Republicans have feuded with CBO over Obamacare replacement

How Difficult It Can Be to Score a Health Care Bill

The former heads of the Congressional Budget Office wrote lawmakers Friday and implored them to stop bad-mouthing the agency over its estimates of Republicans’ proposals to repeal and replace Obamacare.

“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,” wrote the eight former CBO chiefs, who represent every head of the nonpartisan agency since its creation in 1975.

The CBO is usually a low-profile agency in the national discourse, better known among policy wonks than partisans. Its role is to estimate the cost of legislation, along with other economic and social impacts. While both parties have criticized the agency in the past, the CBO has found itself freshly in the political crosshairs of the White House and GOP leaders after repeatedly estimating that Republican health bills would result in tens of millions of people losing insurance.

“Such analysis does generate estimates that are more accurate, on average, than estimates or guesses by people who are not objective and not as well informed as CBO’s analysts,” they wrote.

On Friday, two conservative members of the House of Representatives penned an anti-CBO op-ed, saying its track record “leaves much to be desired.” Earlier this month, the White House made a video bashing the CBO that gained viral attention not as much for its message as its initial misspelling of the word “inaccurately.”And Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price called the agency “wrong again,” after a May estimate of one of the Republican proposals Since then, he’s criticized the agency on Twitter.

Current Director

Keith Hall, the current CBO director, was appointed by Republicans when he took the role in April 2015. He was not a signatory to the letter. The agency didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.

Price was among those who praised Hall when he was appointed by Congress in 2015. “His vast understanding of economic and labor market policy will be invaluable to the work of CBO and the important role it will continue to play as Congress seeks to enact policies that support a healthy and growing economy,” Price, then a congressman, said at the time.

The letter was posted online and addressed to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Representatives for Ryan didn’t respond to a request for comment. McConnell didn’t have a comment, said Don Stewart, a spokesman.

The former CBO directors urged Republicans to show more respect to the budget office, which has been led by both Democrats and Republicans over the years. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who led the agency from 2003 to 2005 and signed the letter, went on to found the American Action Forum, which says it promotes free-market policy solutions.

“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,” the directors wrote. “We urge you to maintain and respect the Congress’s decades-long reliance on CBO’s estimates in developing and scoring bills.”

— With assistance by Zachary Tracer

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