Eight Ex-CBO Directors Defend Accuracy of Agency’s Analysis

By Jonathan Nicholson

A bipartisan group of former directors of the Congressional Budget Office defended the nonpartisan agency against recent attacks on its methodology and assumptions.

The agency’s estimates may not always be correct but are usually more accurate than projections by partisan entities without its resources, the eight former CBO directors said in a July 21 letter to House and Senate party leaders. Congressional Republicans and the White House have criticized the CBO in recent months, often over its scores of versions of bills to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“We write to express our strong objection to recent attacks on the integrity and professionalism of the agency and on the agency’s role in the legislative process,” the group wrote. “Over the past 42 years CBO has been firmly committed to providing nonpartisan and high-quality analysis—and that commitment remains as strong and effective today as it has been in the past. Because CBO works for the Congress, and only the Congress, the agency’s analysis addresses the unique needs of legislators.”

‘More Accurate on Average’

“CBO’s approach produces consistent comparisons of competing legislative proposals and unbiased projections of the impact of policy changes,” the group wrote. “Unfortunately, even nonpartisan and high-quality analysis cannot always generate accurate estimates.

“Policy changes are often complex, the economy is dynamic and defies precise prediction, and many policies are modified over time. However, such analysis does generate estimates that are more accurate, on average, than estimates or guesses by people who are not objective and not as well informed as CBO’s analysts.”

The signers are the CBO’s first director, Alice Rivlin, as well as Rudy Penner, Robert Reischauer, June O’Neill, Dan Crippen, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Peter Orszag, and Doug Elmendorf.

The White House has been particularly aggressive in its criticism of the agency’s health care projections, which have estimated that various Republican plans to curtail Medicaid coverage and overhaul the Affordable Care Act would result in tens of millions fewer Americans with insurance coverage. The White House on July 12 tweeted, “The Congressional Budget Office’s math doesn’t add up. Faulty Numbers = Faulty Results,” with an accompanying 45-second video.

Ryan Previously Praised CBO

Two prominent members of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of libertarian and conservative House Republicans, authored an op-ed column in the Washington Examiner on July 21 that was critical of the CBO.

“The point is, CBO economists are trained to apply Keynesian economic formulas to predict future consumer behavior, but their projections don’t often account for common-sense realities, such as the wet blanket effect that Obamacare had on job creation and economic growth,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) wrote. “Time and time again, their projections miss the mark because they don’t consider economic reality.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) called CBO insurance coverage estimates “kind of a bogus number” at a July 20 event to tout a planned Republican tax overhaul.

But as recently as June 27, Ryan had expressed confidence in the agency and its director, Keith Hall. “It is important that we have a scorekeeper. We can always complain about the nature of the score,” Ryan said. “Having said that, it’s important that we have a referee.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan Nicholson in Washington at jnicholson@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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