In this case, the refs aren’t wearing striped shirts, but green eyeshades. They work at the Congressional Budget Office, known to policy wonks and politicians as the CBO.
The CBO was created to provide Congress with nonpartisan information about spending and taxing issues. It’s the only way, Republicans and Democrats have long agreed, that Congress can gather objective economic data.
Not everyone likes what the CBO says, of course. But almost everyone knows the office is essential.
So it’s more than a little disturbing that some Republicans are pre-emptively disparaging the very instrument Congress developed to help make good decisions.
The CBO is now analyzing the Republican repeal-and-replace alternative known as the American Health Care Act. In the next several days, the CBO is expected to provide reasonable estimates of the number of Americans who would have health insurance under the GOP plan and how much it would cost.
It’s known as the CBO’s “score” of the bill. This is too much, apparently, for some in the Republican Party. “The CBO is consistently inconsistent,” Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina told Talking Points Memo, a liberal website.
The CBO has never claimed omniscience or a perfect prediction record. It missed badly on sign-up predictions for Obamacare, for example. The office didn’t see the Great Recession coming, which threw its deficit projections out of whack.
The CBO’s short-term budget projections are typically more accurate, though, and that’s why Republicans are worried.
The CBO score will almost certainly show the GOP plan will explode the federal budget deficit. Other analysts have already said the tax cuts in the proposal will cost the government $500 billion in revenue over the next 10 years, and CBO will show a similar number.
That will damage whatever momentum the legislation has.
Republicans could address that problem by cutting spending or keeping Obamacare’s taxes. Neither approach is palatable, so they’ve turned to a third option: discrediting the CBO.
It’s wrong and dangerous. Someone needs to objectively analyze policy choices, and the CBO is the entity to do it. Any final votes on the American Health Care Act must be delayed until the CBO score is made public.
If Republicans have a better way to make such estimates, they should propose it once the health care debate is over. And no, a wet finger in the wind isn’t acceptable.
A few catcalls from the cheap seats are predictable and understandable. But the GOP should remember: Without refs, the game disintegrates.
This editorial appeared in the Kansas City Star and was distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.