July 24 2012

Why We Shouldn’t Take CBO Scores Seriously

Carrie L. Lukas

 

During the ObamaCare debate, the media made the countdown to the latest CBO score a great drama:  Did they get the costs of the program under whatever arbitrary line President Obama said during the campaign?

Of course, the answer was typically that indeed they could, because the CBO scoring process is ripe for manipulation.  The CBO is required to take Congress at its word and count aspects of laws that reasonable people know will absolutely never take effect.  Both parties take advantage of this process:  Republicans sometimes offer tax cuts that only last for a couple of years, so that CBO must pretend that the tax rate will zoom back up, even though the lower tax rate will likely be extended, and Democrats make fanciful presumptions about future budget cuts (like the cuts to doctor reimbursements under Medicare, which never actually go into effect but are useful for scoring purposes). 

IWF’s friend, Veronique DeRugy wrote this magnificent run-down of just how far off CBO tends to be, and how it habitually under-estimates how much a government program will cost taxpayers:

Take Medicare spending: the CBO’s long-term projections of Medicare spending have steadily increased, even in recent years and over short periods of time. In 2005, the CBO projected that Medicare would cost $1.5 trillion in 2050. Two years later the same CBO projected that this cost would reach $2.8 trillion in 2050. And in 2009, it projected that it would be $3 trillion instead. The program’s projected cost doubled in four years.

Yet here’s another reason to be skeptical of CBO, particularly as the next score of the health care law emerges:  While technically non-partisan, those charged with creating the CBO score are far from impartial.  In fact, CBO is riddled with analysts who not only are Democratic party members and donors, but who had a role in pushing for the very legislation that they are now supposed to help judge. 

The Daily Caller reports:

The Daily Caller previously reported that Melinda Beeuwkes Buntin was formerly a Department of Health and Human Services official under the Obama administration, and that she had personally donated more than $26,000 to Democratic politicians and campaign committees, with $2,300 of that going to President Obama in 2008. 

Also in 2008, Buntin was cited as an “Obama Spokeswoman,” when she delivered a speech to health industry insiders to “learn more about the Obama/Biden health care plan.” The speech stressed the cost effectiveness of passing the then-candidates’ plan, which would pay for the “$50 – $65 billion health care reform effort by rolling back the Bush tax cuts for Americans earning more than $250,000 per year and retaining the estate tax at its 2009 level.”

Later, between the years 2009 and 2010, the White House visitors log shows Buntin visited eight times, with one of those occasions being with Vice President Joe Biden.

Buntin, now the deputy assistant director of the CBO’s Health Services Department, came to the post in the middle of 2011….

Melinda Buntin isn’t the only CBO official to have ties not only to Democrats, but to this particular law.  Should Americans really expect a fair cost estimate of ObamaCare to come from the CBO?

As a former gymnast, I look forward to watching Olympic gymnastics. Yet as any veteran Olympic gymnastics fan knows, it’s always more stressful than it should be because of the sense that the judges can’t be trusted:  the Russian judges never seem to see their country’s representatives' wobbles and bent legs; the Chinese judges somehow miss that their gymnasts still have baby teeth.  

Waiting for scores from our supposedly nonpartisan scoring office in Washington shouldn’t also accompanied by the same expectation of bias, yet increasingly it is. 

Keep this is mind when you hear the next great pronouncement from the CBO.      

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