Provision buried in new Senate budget resolution is a major blow to transparency

The budget aims to change rules about CBO scoring before votes.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

A provision tucked into the Senate budget resolution released Friday could be a blow to transparency in the legislature.

The resolution calls for repealing a requirement that a vote on legislation cannot be held unless the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has scored the legislation and made their report public for at least 28 hours.

The rule is established in section 3205 of the Congressional Budget for fiscal year 2016, which “[e]stablishes a Senate point of order against voting on passage of legislation unless the CBO cost estimate was available on CBO’s website at least 28 hours before the vote.”

That rule applies to reported legislation coming from a committee, an attempt to make the effects of the bill available to the public before a vote.

But the 80th page of Friday’s budget resolution for fiscal year 2018 calls for repealing that point of order.

Section 3205, “the concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2016, [is] repealed.”

Repealing the rule wouldn’t eliminate the need for a CBO score, but rather just the need for that score to be available online for 28 hours before the vote. Additionally, the budget resolution is exactly that — a resolution. It still needs to be marked up and reconciled with the House budget, but the repeal of 3205 would be a blow to transparency.


In July, a group of former CBO directors wrote to Congressional leadership about their views on the critical role the CBO plays in the legislative process.

“CBO’s approach produces consistent comparisons of competing legislative proposals and unbiased projections of the impact of policy changes,” they wrote. “Unfortunately, even nonpartisan and high-quality analysis cannot always generate accurate estimates… [The CBO’s] analysis does generate estimates that are more accurate, on average, than estimates or guesses by people who are not objective and not as well informed as CBO’s analysts.”

The repeal of the 28-hour requirement could mean that Congressional Republican attempts at tax reform could look a lot like their attempts to repeal and (maybe) replace the Affordable Care Act.

In July, the CBO score of “skinny repeal” was released just hours before the Senate voted on the bill, which was allowed because the bill was not developed in committee. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) served as the final, fatal “no” vote against the bill three hours after the release of the report.