"Reality," Stephen Colbert famously told President Bush to his face, "has a well-known liberal bias." That inconvenient truth is at the heart of the expanding Republican war on the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Increasingly frustrated by CBO analyses showing that the 2009 economic stimulus worked as designed, that the Paul Ryan GOP Medicare rationing plan would massively shift costs to seniors, that income inequality is at record levels and, most damning of all, the Affordable Care Act reduces the national debt, Republican leaders have slandered the agency's work as "smoke and mirrors" and "budget gimmicks, deceptive accounting, and implausible assumptions used to create the false impression of fiscal discipline."
Now in the latest escalation in the GOP's attack, former House Speaker and resurrected 2012 Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich wants to abolish the CBO altogether.
Gingrich’s most recent tirade against the CBO came during a campaign stop in New Hampshire. A supporter of the nonpartisan Congressional scorekeeper during his days as House Speaker in the 1990’s, Gingrich on Monday described the agency as part of a leftist conspiracy:
"The Congressional Budget Office is a reactionary socialist institution which does not believe in economic growth, does not believe in innovation and does not believe in data that it has not internally generated.”
That salvo came two weeks after Newt called for the abolition of the agency during his ersatz debate with Herman Cain (around the 6:45 mark of the video above). As TPM reported:
"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."
Gingrich's animus is hardly surprising. When House Republicans proposed HR 2 in January to repeal the dreaded "Obamacare," they quickly got a rude awakening from the CBO. Demolishing Republican talking points on the subject, the CBO concluded repealing the Affordable Care Act would increase, not decrease, federal budget deficits:
Over the 2012-2021 period, the effect of H.R. 2 on federal deficits as a result of changes in direct spending and revenues is likely to be an increase in the vicinity of $230 billion.
That result did not fit the GOP script. So House Majority Leader Eric Cantor doubled down, essentially accusing the agency of lying:
Cantor also disputed the claim, put forth by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, that the health care reform bill passed by Congress last year will actually reduce the deficit by $143 billion, calling the figure "budget gimmickry."
"I think what we do know is the health care bill costs over $1 trillion," Cantor told Hill. "And we know it was full of budget gimmickry. And it spends money we don't have in this country."
Even before the CBO published its final report pulling the rug out from under the Republicans' bogus budget claims, Ezra Klein of the Washington Post responded, "Repealing health-care reform would cost hundreds of billions of dollars -- and Eric Cantor knows it."
Republicans are aware that this looks, well, horrible. So they're trying to explain why their decision to lift the rule requiring fiscal responsibility is actually fiscally responsible...
What's important about Cantor's argument is not that he's wrong. It's why he's saying something he knows to be wrong. There are plenty of reasons to oppose the health-care reform bill. You might not want to spend that money insuring people, or you might not think the legislation goes far enough in reforming the system. But as a matter of arithmetic, using the math that Congress always uses, the bill saves money. It cuts enough spending and raises enough taxes to more than pay for itself, both in the first 10 years and in the second 10 years.
As it turns out, the CBO's truth-telling didn't merely help frustrate the Republican crusade to undo President Obama's health care reform. The Congressional Budget Office also revealed that the GOP plan to dismantle the Medicare program serving 46 million American seniors would inevitably lead to higher costs and de facto rationing for beneficiaries.
When Paul Ryan unveiled his Roadmap for America's Future back in February 2010, as Ezra Klein, Matthew Yglesias and TPM all noted, privatization of Medicare was the centerpiece of his deficit reduction vision. But because the value of Ryan's vouchers fails to keep up with the out-of-control rise in premiums in the private health insurance market, America's elderly would be forced to pay more out of pocket or accept less coverage. The Washington Post's Klein described the inexorable Republican rationing of Medicare which would then ensue:
It's hard, given the constraints of our current debate, to call something "rationing" without being accused of slurring it. But this is rationing, and that's not a slur. This is the government capping its payments and moderating their growth in such a way that many seniors will not get the care they need.
Sadly for 235 House Republicans and 40 GOP Senators who voted for the Ryan budget, the Congressional Budget Office agreed with Klein's assessment. By leaving beneficiaries at the whim of private insurers whose policies cost more and are padded by substantially higher overhead, and by capping the value of their vouchers, Ryan's budget proposal would produce dire consequences. As the CBO concluded in April, "A typical beneficiary would spend more for health care under the proposal." Make that, as Director Douglas Elmendorf explained, a lot more.
Under the [Ryan] proposal, most elderly people who would be entitled to premium support payments would pay more for their health care than they would pay under the current Medicare system. For a typical 65-year-old with average health spending enrolled in a plan with benefits similar to those currently provided by Medicare, CBO estimated the beneficiary's spending on premiums and out-of-pocket expenditures as a share of a benchmark amount: what total health care spending would be if a private insurer covered the beneficiary. By 2030, the beneficiary's share would be 68 percent of that benchmark under the proposal, 25 percent under the extended-baseline scenario, and 30 percent under the alternative fiscal scenario.
It's no wonder President Obama responded by promising, "I will not allow Medicare to become a voucher program that leaves seniors at the mercy of the insurance industry, with a shrinking benefit to pay for rising costs."
Of course, Republicans have never been fond of Barack Obama's claims, especially when it comes to his stimulus program. But when Rick Perry regurgitated the GOP sound bite that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) "created zero jobs," Politifact branded his a "Pants on Fire" lie. Once again, it was the CBO which proved that for Republicans at least, reality bites:
The effects of the stimulus peaked last year, CBO said, and are on the decline. In total, CBO estimated that the legislation created or saved 1.3 million jobs in 2009 and 4.8 million jobs in 2010. It now projects the stimulus to increase the number of full-time jobs by 3.7 million in 2011 and 1.3 million in 2012.
(Ironically, the CBO was seconded on the success of the stimulus by John McCain's economic adviser, Mark Zandi. In August 2010, the Moody's Economics analyst published a study that the federal government's interventions in the failing U.S. economy prevent "Depression 2.0.")
In other areas, too, the Congressional Budget Office continues to debunk the mythmaking of the Republican propaganda machine. As The Hill reported last month, "The Congressional Budget Office on Friday confirmed that President Obama's jobs bill would be fully paid for over ten years and also gave its seal of approval to Senate Democrats' version that includes a surtax on millionaires." More importantly, the CBO concluded, the $447 billion American Jobs Act "could have a noticeable impact on economic growth and employment in the next few years." Just as embarrassing for the Republican Party determined to deliver yet another tax cut windfall for the wealthy, the CBO recently confirmed that income inequality in the U.S. has hit its highest level in 80 years.
If the Republican war on the CBO sounds familiar, it should. In the 1990's, the GOP"s Congressional leadership led by Newt Gingrich successfully undermined and defunded another trusted nonpartisan scorekeeper, the Office of Technology Assessment. As Chris Mooney explained his classic, The Republican War on Science, Gingrich and his allies saw the destruction of the OTA as essential to their strategy of "manufacturing uncertainty" about acid rain, global warming, CFC's and so much else. It's no surprise Republicans had their knives out for what one Democratic representative described as a "defense against the dumb." When the internationally admired (and cited) OTA was finally gutted by 1996, Lord Kennet, the driving force behind Europe's own network of OTAs, could only shake his head in astonishment:
"That the leading technological state in the world, a democracy like us, could have abolished its own main means of democratic assessment left us aghast."
Now as then, the truth is not setting Republicans free. In the double-speak of GOP leaders like Newt Gingrich, the Congressional Budget Office's truths are "lies." And that's why for the Republican Party dead set on removing another "defense against the dumb," the CBO must go.