Two years ago, Congressional Republicans replaced longtime Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Director Douglas Elmendorf with a man they felt would be more sympathetic to their economic theories. But even with their handpicked economist leading the CBO, members of the House GOP and Trump administrations are seeking to minimize what they must know will be a negative assessment of their Obamacare “replacement” bill by launching a preemptive assault.
In a floor dialogue with the House Republican Majority leader, not long after, then-Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) cited a CBO document. He noted that it was signed by Keith Hall, the new director of the nonpartisan office, who he noted had been selected for the job by “by the chairman of the House Budget Committee and the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, both Republicans.” On their recommendation, the leadership of the Republican House and Senate majorities appointed Hall to the job in February 2015.
That House Budget Committee chairman was then-Congressman Tom Price (R-GA). As Hall had been announced, Price issued a glowing press release, praising Hall and the CBO. “Keith Hall will bring an impressive level of economic expertise and experience to the Congressional Budget Office,” Price cheered. “His vast understanding of economic and labor market policy will be invaluable to the work of CBO and the important roll it will continue to play as Congress seeks to enact policies that support a healthy and growing economy.”
Months later, in two separate Congressional Record statements, Price (who had never hesitated to cite CBO numbers to buttress his own arguments) praised the CBO for its “high standard of professionalism, objectivity, and nonpartisanship” and for its “expertise.”
On Friday, as the CBO prepares to evaluate the Trumpcare bill he has endorsed, Price barely acknowledged knowing Hall and blamed him and the office for “woefully under-performing” in their assessment of Obamacare seven years ago — five years before he helped put Hall in charge of the office.
“I worked with him in my previous job as chairman of the Budget Office,” he told MSNBC’s Mark Halperin. Asked what he thinks of Hall, Price dodged the question and replied that CBO “is an organization that does their doggonest to get the numbers right, but, God bless ’em,” they did not correctly predict the number of Americans would get health insurance through exchanges.”
Price also noted that there are “other individuals working on the legislation” who would come up with their own assessments of the Trumpcare bill, but offered no actual scoring of the bill that backed the administration’s claims that the bill would control healthcare costs and give insurance to more people. A report by the nonpartisan nonprofit Brookings Institution on Thursday predicted that scoring would show “at least 15 million people will lose coverage” under the bill.
Price is not the only Trump administration official preemptively attacking the CBO for what promises to be an unfavorable score of their bill. White House press secretary Sean Spicer also argued on Wednesday that the CBO couldn’t be trusted because its assumptions in 2010 about Obamacare “ were way, way off the mark.”
And even though he was part of the Congressional leadership team that selected Hall, House Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) said Wednesday there was no reason to wait for a CBO score of the bill before passing it, dismissing the office as nothing more than “unelected bureaucrats in Washington.”
Ironically, in the 1990s, Congressional Republicans demanded that Democratic President Clinton’s budgets be scored by the Congressional Budget Office, dismissing his Office of Management and Budget as overly optimistic.