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House Defeats Amendment to Cut One-Third of CBO Staff

‘It was CBO’s reluctance to change their erroneous forecasts’

Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., offered the amendment that would have gotten rid of an 89-person CBO budget analysis division. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., offered the amendment that would have gotten rid of an 89-person CBO budget analysis division. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The House on Wednesday night rejected, 116-309, an amendment that would have eliminated one-third of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

The amendment, offered by Virginia Republican Morgan Griffith to the four-bill appropriations minibus the House is currently debating, would have abolished CBO’s 89-employee budget analysis division and saved a total of $15 million in salaries. Roughly half of Republicans joined Democrats in voting down the amendment.

House Freedom Caucus leaders designed the amendment to have CBO cut down on in-house staff and aggregate analyses from outside groups.

North Carolina Republican Mark Meadows, chairman of the conservative caucus, told Roll Call on Tuesday that he did not expect the amendment to pass but that he hoped it would highlight the need for CBO to update its scoring methodology.

“It wasn’t as much the negative scores as it was CBO’s reluctance to change their erroneous forecasts from previous years and correct the assumptions that they’ve made,” he said.

Griffith said in a floor speech on his amendment that CBO scored his amendment and estimated it would have no net effect on budgetary authority or outlays. He questioned how the elimination of 89 employees with aggregate salaries of $15 million would have no budgetary effect.

“I don’t think any of us believe that,” he said. “So here’s the conundrum that my friends have on the other side of this issue: A ‘yes’ vote means that you agree with me that something needs to be reformed at CBO. A ‘no’ vote means that you agree with CBO’s assessment that this amendment abolishing 89 employees will have no effect. Therefore I would submit to you that the CBO in effect has determined that their budget analysis division has no value.”

The amendment was also significant because it was House Republicans’ first attempt to use the Holman rule, which allows members to offer amendments to appropriations bills designed to reduce the scope and size of government. The rule had not been used in decades but Republicans decided to reinstate it on a one-year trial basis, incorporating it into the House rules package adopted at the beginning of the year.

Because the House may not consider amendments to another appropriations bill this year, the Griffith amendment may have been Republicans only shot at using the Holman rule. The CBO amendment is likely to be used by critics of the Holman rule as a reason it should not be renewed on a permanent basis.

“This is exactly what we worried about when Republicans reinstated this arcane rule in January,” Democrats who represent federal government employees said in a joint statement. “The Holman Rule empowers members of Congress to target individual federal employees. The rule is being used to punish an important advisory body for doing its job by providing forecasts which some members now find inconvenient.”

The statement came from Maryland Reps. Steny Hoyer, the House minority whip, Jamie Raskin, John Delaney and Anthony Brown, Virginia Reps. Don Beyer, Gerry Connolly and Bobby Scott, and District of Columbia Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton.

House Democrats also dismissed the amendment as Republicans continuing to attack the CBO because of their frustration with the agency’s analysis of their health care overhaul legislation.

Budget Committee ranking member John Yarmuth said the amendment would destroy an agency that was created to serve as “impartial referee” so Congress would not have to rely on administration analyses of legislation.

“It is beneath the Congress to attack the CBO, which is only doing its job, and it should be embarrassing to my Republican colleagues that they are launching these attacks simply because they do not have the courage to defend the damaging effects of their plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act,” the Kentucky Democrat said in a floor speech during debate on the amendment. “This needs to stop.”

The Blue Dog Coalition, a group of fiscally conservative Democrats, criticized the amendment as a “dangerous” attack on a nonpartisan organization. 

“If you find yourself attacking the umpire because you don’t like the balls and strikes that are being called, it’s a sign that you’re losing,” Blue Dog co-chairs Jim Costa of California, Henry Cuellar of Texas and Daniel Lipinski of Illinois said in a statement criticizing the Freedom Caucus leaders who pushed the amendment.

The House also rejected, 107-314, an amendment that would have reduced funding for the CBO by $25 million.

Freedom Caucus member Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, who offered the amendment, said it cuts CBO’s funding by “the same amount they were wrong on the enrollment from the ACA from the projection until now, which is 15.4 percent.”

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