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CBO Would Disclose Research Models, Data Under Lee Measure

Utah Republican latest to target Congress’ budget scorekeeper

Utah Sen. Mike Lee wants the CBO to ‘show how its models work.’ (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Utah Sen. Mike Lee wants the CBO to ‘show how its models work.’ (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The hits keep coming for the Congressional Budget Office, as Republicans in Congress continue to lash out against the nonpartisan scorekeeper following its unflattering analysis of recent GOP health care proposals.

Republican lawmakers and White House officials in recent months have accused the CBO of partisan bias; called for slashing its budget; singled out individual employees; and suggested the agency is now obsolete.

The latest jab comes from Sen. Mike Lee, who has introduced a bill that would require the CBO to make publicly available the models and data used in its legislative scores.

“Congress does need a scorekeeper to provide budgetary estimates for the policy changes it considers,” the Utah Republican said in a statement. “But at a bare minimum, that scorekeeper should be forced to show how its models work. Currently the CBO doesn’t have to do that.”

Grousing over the CBO’s budgetary estimates isn’t new and has come from both sides of the aisle, but the recent complaints from Republicans have been unusually fierce.

The grumbling stems from the agency’s findings that millions of Americans would lose health coverage under the many versions of the GOP’s health care overhaul legislation, along with other unflattering estimates.

The House in July rejected two amendments to an appropriations package that would have cut 50 percent of the CBO’s funding and eliminated 89 employees constituting the agency’s budget analysis division. But both amendments earned more than 100 votes in favor, all from Republicans.

House Budget Chairwoman Diane Black opposed the amendments but the Tennessee Republican said she would hold committee hearings later this year to examine the CBO’s scoring methods.

Some top Trump administration officials have also berated the agency’s work, including Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

“If you’re looking to CBO for accuracy, you’re looking in the wrong place,” Spicer said in March.

At an event Friday at Boston College, CBO Director Keith Hall, who was appointed to his post by Republicans, said the budget shop does aim for transparency.

“We try to document our models as well as we can. We do a fair amount of presentation on our models. We even write working papers describing our analysis,” Hall said.

He also cited the CBO’s use of outside experts and the agency’s outreach to lawmakers when developing its analysis.

“When we’re looking at legislation, we always ask the congressional committee, ‘What research do you want us to look at? Which data do you want us to look at?’” Hall said.

The CBO is likely to remain in the spotlight as Republicans pivot from health care to taxes.

Proposals to overhaul the tax system will require CBO scores that could prompt heated debate over the legislation’s impact on economic growth and federal revenue.

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