Budget

Did Eric Cantor's Criticism of ObamaCare's Budgeting Cross a New Line for the GOP?

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Eric Cantor, CBO-basher?

Is Eric Cantor, the GOP's new House Majority Leader, accusing the Congressional Budget Office of bad faith for its health care scores? A report in The New York Times suggests that Cantor is pioneering a new and especially harsh criticism of the congressional scorekeeper. According to the piece, Cantor "crossed beyond the Republicans' longstanding criticism of the health care law in his indictment of the Congressional Budget Office" when he "accused the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office on Wednesday of misrepresenting the cost of the recently enacted health care law at the behest of Democrats in Congress."

This wouldn't be entirely surprising given reports that another top House Republican, Speaker John Boehner, is still unhappy with CBO director Douglas Elmendorf because of the office's health care scores. And it would be a mistake on Cantor's part if it were accurate. But I'm not sure that the Times correctly characterized the Majority Leader's remarks.

Cantor, via a spokesman, has already told the Times that the intent of the remarks was not to bash the CBO. And, more importantly, the quotes the Times provides don't suggest that that's what Cantor was doing. I haven't seen a complete transcript, and I'm told the remarks were not recorded by C-SPAN, but according to the NYT's report, Cantor argued that the score was a product of "gimmicks." That's hardly a novel criticism; Rep. Paul Ryan said much the same thing, in greater detail, at last year's health care summit. Nor is it really a criticism of the CBO's work. The standard criticism of the health care scoring process has been that although the CBO does solid work, it is constrained in the way it scores legislation, and Democrats employed a variety in gimmicks in order to game those constraints.

According to the piece, Cantor also said the following:

First of all, about the budget implications, I think most people understand that the C.B.O. did the job it was asked to do by the then-Democrat majority, and it was really comparing apples to oranges….It talked about 10 years worth of tax hikes and six years worth of benefits. Everyone knows beyond the 10-year window, this bill has the potential to bankrupt this federal government as well as the states. So that speaks to the budget implications of that.

This is not the most elegant or precise explanation of why the CBO's scores are probably not the most accurate real-world guess as to the budgetary effects of the health care law. Indeed, Cantor's explanation of the way the law packaged just six years of benefits into the CBO's ten-year scored window confuses deficit reduction with total cost. At least in theory, it's possible for a bill to spend a lot of money and still bring down the deficit if the bill also makes cuts and brings in new revenue in excess of the spending. That particular trick was employed to keep the total cost of running the program for ten years down; starting the bulk of the benefits, and thus the bulk of the spending, four years into the ten-year window means that you're really only measuring six years of cost in the ten-year score.

But if you look past the awkward phrasing, Cantor's statement was hardly new: Rep. Paul Ryan, who has praised the CBO's work on many occasions, said much the same thing, as did former CBO director Douglas Holtz-Eakin—another critic of the new legislation who has also defended the work of his former employer.

So Cantor offered a somewhat mangled version of a familiar critique of the law's score. But contrary to the description provided by the Times, it doesn't seem like a novel or particularly aggressive criticism of the CBO. Indeed, in saying that "most people understand that the CBO. did the job it was asked to do by the then-Democrat majority," Cantor seems to be nodding to the idea that the CBO was constrained and the Democrats are to blame for gaming the scoring process. 

(Thanks to Aaron Carroll for first noting the article.)

NEXT: NY Times Flips its Whig Over Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-Ind.)

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  1. I am constantly at a loss, trying to understand the reverence in which the CBO is held by Congresscritters and the media. Their non-partisanship is wholly irrelevant as all of their information about a particular bill comes from the proponents of the legislation in question; garbage in-garbage out is a concept that is well understood but seems to be ignored whenever folk start pimping the CBO scoring on whatever legislation is being discussed. Have any CBO predictions ever turned out to be accurate once the legislation is implemented?

    1. At best it’s a flawed scorekeeper, at worst a propaganda tool. Cut it and save $45 million.

      1. $45M? Why, that’s enough to fund the DoD for 25 minutes!

        Imagine what the DoD could do with that kind of windfall!

  2. Corrupt nationalists (NOT Conservatives) like Cantor will use any means to attack the press, the independent score-keepers, and libertarians who speak out against his sweet-heart deals for Big Defense and Big Finance.

    When will corrupt nationalists like Cantor admit that health-care (the general Welfare) is a natural right, and that the fiscally sound solution is to remove the private sector and their 80% payouts altogether.

    1. Al, how does health care (the positive action of providing expensive goods & services) equate to a natural right? How does PROMOTE the general welfare and PROVIDE the common defense equate to your silly notion of stealing from some to provide expensive goods and services to another?

    2. When will you DIAF, Communazi?

    3. Also, are you the Al Dorman who made his fortune as a rent-seeking architect/engineer of public works projects or are you the Al Dorman who owns one of Ontario’s larger insurance brokerages?

      1. Fuck, I thought it was Flounder this whole time.

        Oh, that’s Dorfman, my bust.

    4. I just discovered that I have a NATURAL RIGHT to all of Dorfman’s worldly possesions.

      Kindly liquidate all your property and send me a check for the balance.

      1. Do they take money out of your account if you deposit a check with a negative amount?

  3. If only there was some way Cantor et al could reduce or remove those constraints on the CBO that make it so easy to game.

  4. 1. By default, every criticism needs to come with the alterative.
    Under the broken system below,

    (a) Inaction cost, $9trillion over the next decade, ((Some of CBO analysis : While the costs of the financial bailouts and economic stimulus bills are staggering, they are only a fraction of the coming costs from Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Over the next decade, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that each year Medicaid will expand by 7 percent, Medicare by 6 percent, and Social Security by 5 percent. These programs face a 75-year shortfall of $43 trillion–60 times greater than the gross cost of the $700 billion TARP financial bailout)).

    Under the previous broken system, health costs will skyrocket, leading to more personal, corporate, and governmental bankruptcy.

    (b) The insurers set up a monopoly via consolidation violating an anti-trust law.

    (c) The biggest 10 healthcare providers are driven mostly to please Wall Street and must show growing profits every three months in their reports to wall Street or their stocks values go down. So healthcare prices climb at an unreasonable rate at the expense of everyone involved.

    Can the reps show me the best possible breakthrough ? Just return to the failed Bush policy based on trickle-down economics ? :

    “If the rich aren’t getting richer neither are the poor! The wealthy create companies and jobs; the more they have the more they can spend and that eventually filters down to the rest of us.”

    If so, can you explain to me why the U.S. economy was on the brink of complete collapse just like Lehman Brothers in 2008 ?

    And the reps claimed earlier : Are you listening to people ?

    (a) The vast majority of the PEOPLE wanted the public option that the House passed and a majority of the Senate favored, but it couldn’t get past the Republican filibuster.

    (b) The biggest concern about the economy is a job market, (according to CNN polling, voters said that unemployment is roughly twice as important as all other top issues combined.)

    Can the reps also explain to me why they aren’t listening to people ?

    Looks as if the reps are set to drag the U.S. economy into another failed Bush era via the ransom deal, repeal of ACA.
    ( Looks as if the reps are Glorifying the culture of corruption as the trickle-down economics )

    1. “The biggest 10 healthcare providers are driven mostly to please Wall Street and must show growing profits every three months in their reports to wall Street or their stocks values go down. So healthcare prices climb at an unreasonable rate at the expense of everyone involved.”
      Your conclusion does not follow from your premise; fail.

      Regarding the rest of your ignorant rant; fail.

      “Just return to the failed Bush policy based on trickle-down economics ?”
      Lying about Bush just makes you a liar; fail.

    2. The biggest 10 healthcare providers” – What do you mean, like ten fattest doctors?

  5. Is Eric Cantor, the GOP’s new House Majority Leader, accusing the Congressional Budget Office of bad faith for its health care scores?

    Indeed, in saying that “most people understand that the CBO. did the job it was asked to do by the then-Democrat majority,” Cantor seems to be nodding to the idea that the CBO was constrained and the Democrats are to blame for gaming the scoring process.

  6. An analysis by Peter ‘Freedomworks’ Suderman.

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