The CBO’s conclusion that, completely contrary to what the Clinton White House and the OMB were saying, the proposal had to be included on budget immediately made the plan politically untenable. Republicans in the House and Senate rejoiced, praised the CBO’s independent analysis and courage and relied heavily on the CBO’s analysis to criticize the proposal.
But this also isn’t the first or only issue over which Republicans have been furious with the CBO: Its analysis of the effect of proposed tax cuts on revenues has always been a big point of contention.
Even though, by law, the revenue effect of proposed tax changes is actually determined by the Joint Committee on Taxation, the CBO has almost always taken the political hit from Republicans when the tax cuts they have wanted to enact haven’t been scored as paying for themselves. As with health care reform, this almost always has made what the GOP wanted to do legislatively much more difficult.
The Gingrich proposal is a clear escalation from what other senior Republicans have tried to do to get around CBO scorekeeping rules. For example, earlier this year, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) specifically told the CBO the assumptions it should use when analyzing the revenue components of his budget plan. In a variation of the GOP tax-cuts-increase-federal-revenues position, Ryan told the CBO to assume that taxes would be at a certain percentage of gross domestic product if his plan were adopted rather than allowing it to make an independent assessment. This made the plan look better than it otherwise would have been.
To be fair, there also have been Democratic proposals to reduce or eliminate the effect of the budget scoring rules at one or more points in the history of the Congressional budget process. For example, although I no longer recall the specific issue involved, I do remember the late Senate Finance Chairman Russell Long (D-La.) proposing to temporarily suspend the Congressional Budget Act so that something he wanted to do could get done. And very early in its history there were threats to cut CBO funding because a powerful Democratic Member didn’t like some of the things its first director — Alice Rivlin — had been saying in speeches.
But I can’t recall anyone else in the now almost 40 years since the CBO was created saying that it should be eliminated because she or he didn’t like its numbers. That may change the legislative environment, but it won’t change any of the budget realities. And that definitely should raise everyone’s blood pressure.
Stan Collender is a partner at Qorvis Communications and founder of the blog Capital Gains and Games. He is also the author of “The Guide to the Federal Budget.”