Newt Wants To Repeal The CBO — Why Can’t We Just Fix It?

Brian Beutler reports that Newt Gingrich has come out in favor of doing away with the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) — the only nonpartisan entity that evaluates how legislative proposals effect the national deficit:

If you are serious about real health reform, you must abolish the Congressional Budget Office because it lies,” Gingrich said at a Saturday debate with embattled pizza entrepreneur Herman Cain. “Every hospital will tell you that if you get the family and patient involved, it is better and less expensive. The Congressional Budget Office refuses to see this as a savings. It wants more bureaucracy and less patient involvement.”

In a technical sense, Gingrich is correct. The Congressional Budget Office will make it hard for Republicans to completely repeal Obamacare, even if they unify control of government in 2013. CBO is the agency that evaluates for lawmakers the impact their legislation is expected to have on the federal budget. And unfortunately for Republicans, the health care law was devised to score as a deficit reducer, particularly after its first 10 years of existence. By direct corollary, the CBO says repealing the whole thing would increase projected deficits. For political and (more importantly) procedural reasons, that would make a complete repeal almost impossible.

Of course, the CBO doesn’t actually lie. Rather, it follows budgetary rules that Congress “originally established in the conference report on the Balanced Budget Act of 1997” and Gingrich personally voted for. And yes, those rules often ignore savings from prevention and delivery system reforms that many economists believe would modernize the health care system and result in real savings and efficiences. If lawmakers want to receive credit for those savings, however, they can do something far less dramatic than eliminating the budget office and simply vote to change CBO’s scoring methods.