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Both Sides Claim Victory in CRS Revision of Tax Report

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Van Hollen praised the Congressional Research Service as a “nonpartisan group of professionals.”

The new report, for instance, uses the phrase “high-income tax payers” instead of “millionaires” and “the very rich,” and it replaces “Bush tax cuts” with “Bush-era tax cuts.” It says that “this report attempts to explore whether or not there is any evidence of an association between the top tax rates of the highest income taxpayers and economic growth,” rather than stating “this report attempts to clarify.” It states that “this analysis finds no conclusive evidence” of this association, whereas in the original report Hungerford wrote more forcefully, “there is no conclusive evidence.”

They are small but significant changes in light of the CRS’ history of fighting accusations of bias by expert analysts who, in their outside activities, sometimes find themselves susceptible to scrutiny that began with the 1995 rise of Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga. With his pledge to slash spending on congressional research agencies came somewhat of a chilling effect at the agency.

“Realizing the danger of engaging in pure analysis, [management] tried to push everyone to not just be even-handed but to engage more in a survey of what people think as opposed to an analysis of what the options are,” said Daniel Schuman, a former CRS attorney and now the policy counsel at The Sunlight Foundation.

And there is also the challenge for the CRS, as an agency trying to do nonpartisan work for a partisan Congress, to avoid becoming embroiled in political infighting that continued Thursday.

“House Democrats are doing a bizarre victory dance with this report,” Ferrier said in a statement to reporters.

In a separate email to CQ Roll Call, Ferrier continued, saying it was, “disheartening ... that a simple conversation between staff and CRS about their economic analysis was turned into a political football by Democrats.”

Democrats, meanwhile, have consistently accused Republicans of trying to cover up a report that had findings they didn’t agree with. At Thursday’s news conference, incoming House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Joseph Crowley of New York said the CRS, in standing up against political pressure, was “brave.”

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