Econ 101: The GOP and The CBO

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Yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office released its estimates on the costs that would accompany a full repeal of healthcare reform.  The New York Times reports that

[t]he nonpartisan budget scorekeepers in Congress said on Thursday that the Republican plan to repeal President Obama’s health care law would add $230 billion to federal budget deficits over the next decade, intensifying the first legislative fight of the new session and highlighting the challenge Republicans face in pursuing their agenda.

This estimate was based on the difference between projected savings under the current healthcare reform bill compared to savings under the repeal bill proposed by Republicans this week, and the costs were found primarily in the areas of Medicare cost cuts and public education regarding healthcare and healthy living.

Somewhat predictably, Republicans via John Boehner were nonplussed.

“I do not believe that repealing the job-killing health care law will increase the deficit,”[Boehner] said.

“C.B.O. is entitled to their opinion,” he said, but he said Democrats had manipulated the rules established for determining the cost of a program under the 1974 Budget Act.

“C.B.O. can only provide a score based on the assumptions that are given to them,” Mr. Boehner said. “And if you go back and look at the health care bill and the assumptions that were given to them, you see all of the double-counting that went on.”

I suppose that could be a valid criticism.  I mean, here’s a broad look (see also here) at the types of assumptions we are dealing with in CBO projections.  I can see how someone might quibble with parts. Where the Republican position loses credibility, however, is mentioned in the closing paragraph of the NYT article:

In their own report on Thursday, intended to illustrate how the law would lead to job losses, Republican leaders put the cost of the health care law “when fully implemented” at $2.6 trillion and said it would “add $701 billion to the deficit in its first 10 years.”

Here’s a tip: if you are going to whine about the non-partisan CBO’s estimate as being unrealistic, you might not want to proffer your own estimate that is so far afield as to match nothing but the numbers from GOP thinktanks.  More importantly, if you want me to take your “their assumptions are faulty” argument to heart, perhaps you shouldn’t create a model that has even more assumptions, many of which are untestable and based on nothing but conjecture and hyperbole.

Actually…scratch that.  There’s really nothing John Boehner is going to say regarding the CBO that is going to make me believe him over them.  As Bruce Bartlett of the Financial Times noted:

Unfortunately, Republicans have long had it in for the CBO. Many would like nothing better than to abolish it altogether, just as they abolished the Office of Technology Assessment and the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations when they took control of Congress in 1995. Even those Republicans that don’t hate the CBO see its close to $50 million per year budget as an inviting target for false economy.

CBO’s great sin, in Republican eyes, is that it’s always telling them that their pet ideas are wrong: tax cuts don’t automatically pay for themselves through the Laffer Curve, the Affordable Care Act didn’t raise the deficit, the budget can’t be balanced only by cutting domestic discretionary spending, and other heresies to Republican dogma.

How anti-CBO are the “Repeal Obamacare” lawmakers?  Bartlett continues (with all emphases mine):

Interestingly, CBO was not asked to score the cost of repeal by its sponsors, which is normally required for all bills that affect spending. However, it did so anyway. Yesterday, CBO estimated that ACA repeal will increase the deficit by $230 billion over the next 10 years. Keep in mind that repeal would not only reduce spending for new benefits, but also reverse all of the cost savings that paid for them. Undoing those savings means increasing Medicare spending by about $500 billion. That’s why Republicans had to bend their own rules to permit a vote on ACA repeal in order to get around their promise never to increase entitlement spending without offsetting it with entitlement cuts.

The bent rules to which Bartlett refers?  Politico’s Jake Sherman writes:

After calling for bills to go through a regular committee process, the bill that would repeal the health care law will not go through a single committee. Despite promising a more open amendment process for bills, amendments for the health care repeal will be all but shut down. After calling for a strict committee attendance list to be posted online, Republicans backpedaled and ditched that from the rules. They promised constitutional citations for every bill but have yet to add that language to early bills.

Look, I get that some people don’t like the Affordable Care Act.  Some don’t like it because they don’t think providing healthcare for people is a role the federal government should play.  Some don’t like it because Big Pharma doesn’t like it.  Some don’t like it because they think it reeks of socialism (though few in that camp seem to actually know what socialism is).  Some don’t like it simply because they are idiots with no understanding of economics or Constitutional law.

Whatever your reason, if you oppose the law, fine.  More power to you.  (I mean, you’re still not getting it repealed in the next two years or anything, but whatever.)  But, at the very least, if you are going to oppose it — and this goes for everyone from Norman Harvey of Cherokee Village to John Boehner — try to be intellectually honest in your discussions.  That effort should include, at minimum, adhering to any rules you might have made for yourself before the process started and rebutting any flaws you see in the CBO’s estimates with specific, detailed arguments to the contrary.  Don’t decry “faulty assumptions” and offer nothing to support it.  Oh, and please show your work and remember that neatness counts.