Analysis: The CBO’s Cryptic Approach To Scoring Laws Undermines Public Confidence

Efforts by Republican lawmakers to repeal the Affordable Care Act in recent months have repeatedly collapsed after the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scored the various bills using a closely guarded analytic process done entirely behind closed doors. As Republicans released proposed legislation, the CBO announced its views about its effect on the federal budget and how it would affect the number of people without health insurance but didn’t provide a clear account of how those numbers were reached. The lack of transparency about the basis for the CBO’s findings makes it difficult for either experts or the broader public to evaluate their credibility or predict how alternatives to the legislation might be scored. As a result, the scores have been surprisingly bleak, forecasting far more people without health insurance than many experts expected, and opened the non-partisan agency to charges of having a liberal bias. The models used by the CBO to produce these scores are confidential and unavailable for public scrutiny. Often they exist only on the hard drive of a single staffer or a small group of staffers with responsibility for certain types of legislation. The identities of these custodians are not publicly known, although very often lobbyists in Washington, D.C. know which staffers have custody of the models that cover areas relevant to the lobbyists’ clients. Disclosure of the models would be a fairly simple task, merely requiring the CBO to post the spreadsheets it uses to make its estimates. So far, however, the CBO has resisted calls for greater transparency and public accountability. The resistance may be undermining the CBO’s reputation as a non-partisan score-keeper of legislation. White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney recently said that the time for the CBO has “come and gone” and suggested changes to make the agency less influential in the legislative process. Depending on which type of legislation is being considered, the CBO’s level of transparency varies. Its annual Long-Term Budget Outlook, for example, includes a somewhat detailed explanation of the basis for its forecasts, although even their the agency hides the precise formulas it uses. The healthcare bills are on the opposite end of the spectrum, cloaked in secrecy. For example, CBO’s most recent health care report, produced on July 19 with the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation, estimated that the latest house bill would increase the number of uninsured by 32 million in 2026, double insurance premiums for individuals who purchase insurance, and decrease budget deficits by $472 billion over the next ten years. But it offered only vague and often unhelpful explanations for how it arrived at these figures.

Agreed..  The whole CBO scoring thing is a con in the worst way.  To read the rest of this outstanding, and eye-opening, analysis by John Carney, click on the text above.

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