The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has emerged as a prominent force in American democracy in recent weeks, delivering consequential blows to Republican lawmakers as the GOP-controlled Senate tries to pass a bill to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. While the numbers presented under these analyses speak for themselves, it’s the voices of former CBO directors that are speaking louder, and likely ringing in the ears of Republicans in Washington.
All eight former directors of the CBO cosigned a letter sent to congressional leaders last Friday that condemned the attacks on the office’s integrity and encouraged members of both houses of Congress to respect the procedures of the office that ensure objectivity in all its analyses.
“We write to express our strong objection to recent attacks on the integrity and professionalism of the agency and on the agency’s role in the legislative process,” the letter reads. “Over the past 42 years CBO has been firmly committed to providing nonpartisan and high-quality analysis — and that commitment remains as strong and effective today as it has been in the past. Because CBO works for the Congress, and only the Congress, the agency’s analysis addresses the unique needs of legislators.”
To meet the standard of nonpartisan objectivity, CBO makes no recommendations about policy, regularly consults with researchers and practitioners with a wide range of views (as can be seen in the agency’s panels of advisers and reviewers for major studies), and enhances its transparency by releasing extensive descriptions of its analytic techniques and forecast record. To produce estimates of high quality, CBO uses its detailed understanding of federal programs and economic conditions, ongoing interactions with government officials and private-sector experts, the best academic research, and the latest available data consistent with the timing of the Congressional budget process.
The CBO has drawn the ire of the GOP in recent months for their scores on Obamacare repeal legislation that predict mass losses of insurance for Americans if the 2010 health care bill is repealed.
The projections for the House of Representatives’ American Health Care Act, the bill that prompted a premature celebration at the White House Rose Garden, was the first offering of grim news for the seven-year-long Republican promise to repeal Barack Obama’s signature health care bill.
“Following additional changes to subsidies for insurance purchased in the nongroup market and to the Medicaid program, the increase in the number of uninsured people relative to the number under current law would rise to 21 million in 2020 and then to 24 million in 2026,” the analysis reads.
The reductions in insurance coverage between 2018 and 2026 would stem in large part from changes in Medicaid enrollment—because some states would discontinue their expansion of eligibility, some states that would have expanded eligibility in the future would choose not to do so, and per-enrollee spending in the program would be capped. In 2026, an estimated 52 million people would be uninsured, compared with 28 million who would lack insurance that year under current law.
The Better Care Reconciliation Act, the Senate’s effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, fell through following policy disagreements between the conservative and moderate wings of the party. The CBO’s prediction on that bill? 22 million people would lose their health care insurance by 2026.
The most recent effort to squash the Affordable Care Act, the Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act, ushered forth another devastating prediction from the CBO— that 32 million people would lose their health insurance by 2026 if Obamacare is repealed without a replacement.
It’s calamitous predictions like these that have backed Republican leaders into a corner, forcing them to choose between abandoning their legislation or taking aim at the CBO’s credibility.
House Speaker Paul Ryan has called the CBO’s projections “bogus” with other GOP colleagues following suit.
The White House website shared a Washington Post op-ed that said the CBO uses “fundamentally flawed” methodology, and former press secretary Sean Spicer is on record calling the office “consistently wrong” in their analyses. Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey has stuck to a similar narrative on the CBO, believing the CBO reports to be based on “wildly speculative assumptions” as he stated earlier this month.
The overall demeanor of Republicans toward the CBO fits a wider theme that matches attitudes of the White House. The Trumpian method of trying to discredit dissenting information that doesn’t line up with the current Republican agenda is beginning to run rampant among the political right, expanding beyond the White House and into the Capitol.
The president’s tweets are a prime example of this strategy, as he has continually called media outlets “fake news” if they present information critical of his actions or administration. Now the effort to undermine institutions standing in the way of the GOP’s agenda is not limited to the press, as the attacks against the CBO demonstrate.
That’s what makes the letter from CBO directors all the more important. The constant attempts to undermine and discredit nonpartisan, objective institutions are dangerous to American democracy, and people are starting to realize it.
Reporters like Jorge Ramos of Univision and Jim Acosta of CNN have taken a stand against unfair treatment toward journalists, and the former CBO directors are following their lead. They understand the need for integrity and truth during a time when the president is more concerned with saving face than saving the Americans’ health care.
With factual information becoming more and more rare in the nation’s political discourse, the CBO has taken a stand to try and preserve the integrity of the few independent bodies in American politics, before the short-term goals and personal interests of the GOP in 2017 eradicate them. It’s important that Americans stand alongside institutions like them and the press, to preserve integrity and truth for the greater good instead of staying silent for the sake of short-term political victories.
The full letter that former CBO directors sent to congressional leaders can be read here.