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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.”

Nearly three months after the Congressional Research Service removed from circulation a report that Republicans claimed was biased and methodologically flawed, the agency Thursday released an updated version that reached the same conclusion: There is no correlation between top tax rates and economic growth.

It is a relatively satisfactory ending for the Senate Republican offices that were the most vocal in their admonishments of the report by CRS Analyst Thomas L. Hungerford.

Though the study upholds an economic conclusion that Democrats embrace and Republicans reject, it now includes further explanation of how the analysis was conducted, additional nods to the other side’s stance and some watered-down rhetoric that could deflect further accusations of partisanship.

“Hats off to CRS for hearing out our concerns and agreeing that the report needed to be modified to reach their standards,” said Antonia Ferrier, spokeswoman for Senate Finance ranking member Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah.

The updated report also satisfied Democrats who, led by Ways and Means ranking member Sander M. Levin of Michigan, had pressured the CRS to re-release the study that bolsters their position.

Senior Democrats on the Ways and Means and Budget committees celebrated Thursday by holding a news conference.

“The Congressional Research Service is a nonpartisan group of professionals who [reach] conclusions based on evidence, not on politics,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the House Budget Committee’s top Democrat. “And that’s important ... because they put a stake in the heart of the Republican argument that small increases in marginal tax rates for wealthy individuals somehow hurt economic growth.”

Thursday’s events appear to bring the episode to a close, but the report’s revision, and the reception it received, speak to the CRS’ tenuous status as the nonpartisan research arm of Congress in an increasingly partisan moment for the legislative branch.

CRS spokeswoman Janine D’Addario said the primary reason for withdrawing the report’s was to provide “more extensive documentation and explanation of the methodology underlying the economic analysis.” The updated report, which is two pages longer than the original, does so in a new section on “methodology” and elsewhere throughout the document.

Though she would not comment on what directions Hungerford might have received about revising the study, D’Addario acknowledged that some words and phrases were tweaked.

“CRS is committed to producing objective analysis without advocating particular courses of action,” she said. “Word choice, appropriately qualified assertions, adequate documentation and balanced tone are aspects of that effort.”

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