April 24, 2014

Newt Gingrich Wants to Kill the CBO Messenger

Former Speaker and current GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich might well have said that he wants to kill his personal physician because he didnít like being told his blood pressure was too high.

But thatís the equivalent of what Gingrich did say during a recent debate, when he made it clear that the Congressional Budget Office has to be eliminated if health care reform is going to be repealed.

According to Gingrich, the CBO should be done away with because its analysis shows that, as enacted, health care reform reduces the federal budget deficit. This means that repealing it ó as many in the GOP base to which Gingrich is appealing wants to do ó will increase the deficit and, therefore, require spending cuts or revenue increases to offset the impact. That, of course, will make the repeal effort much harder and far less likely.

But instead of proposing those offsets ó that is, instead of doing the budget equivalent of taking steps to lower his blood pressure by losing weight, using less salt or taking medication ó Gingrich wants to kill the CBO budget doctor so he doesnít have to hear any more bad reports.

This is as outrageous a proposal for the federal budget as it would be for treating high blood pressure. The difference is that while Gingrich wouldnít actually dare do away with his doctor, he obviously had no problem suggesting that for the CBO.

Until the CBO was created in 1974 by the Congressional Budget Act, federal budgeting in general and Congressional budgeting in particular was in the fiscal equivalent of the Dark Ages.

This was a period when rigorous budget analysis was in short supply and the House and Senate made decisions on spending and revenue issues based more on political wants rather than on high-quality information. It was also the time when the committee that reported a bill was the one who told you what it would cost or save, when those in charge considered questioning the committee as political heresy and when heretics often were punished.

This also was when there was no equivalent of the Office of Management and Budget on Capitol Hill and Congress had no choice but to take the OMBís word as gospel. This was the case even though, as an executive branch agency, the OMBís primary responsibility is to protect and promote the presidentís initiatives rather than give Congress information it can use to defeat what the White House wants to do.

This is why the CBO was created: to give Congress an independent analytical assessment of the budget implications of what is being considered so itís in a much better position to understand the fiscal effect of the decisions being made.

The GOP, including Gingrich, hasnít always been unhappy with the CBO.

It was the CBOís 1994 analysis that provided Congressional Republicans with some of the most powerful ammunition that stopped President Bill Clintonís health care reform plan from being enacted.

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