Any Trade Pact Bill Would Be Dynamically Scored: CBO's Hall

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By Jonathan Nicholson

Sept. 14 — The director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office told lawmakers that his office is preparing to score any potential Trans-Pacific Partnership trade legislation to include its impact on the economy and the federal budget.

While Republican leaders have said they do not intend to bring up the controversial TPP trade pact during a post-election lame-duck session, some rank-and-file House Republicans remain suspicious that it will come up. The comments by CBO Director Keith Hall Sept. 14 indicate a TPP bill could have an easier time getting a favorable budget score from the CBO. Most economists say international trade boosts economic growth, and because dynamic scoring includes the projected impact of a bill on the overall economy and any impact of economic growth has on the budget, a dynamically scored trade bill would be more likely to be scored as increasing growth and driving down the deficit.

“CBO has devoted significant resources to analyzing trade agreements and improving our capability to model their effects,” Hall said during testimony before the Senate Budget Committee. “We continue to prepare to analyze potential legislation related to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and we anticipate this will be the first time that we provide a dynamic analysis of a trade agreement.”

Dynamic scoring has been a source of contention between Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill. The House adopted it in a rules change for the current 114th Congress. The Senate formally adopted it in a budget resolution in 2015, but its use has been hampered by conference report text that says the dynamic score would be for advisory purposes only.

Democrats say the dynamic scores are prone to less precision than conventional ones and their assumptions can be gamed to make tax cuts appear less expensive than they are. Republicans say including the feedback from changes in the economy helps lawmakers judge legislation better and provides a better real world idea of a bill's potential impact.

Dynamic scoring is restricted to bills of a certain size, as measured in proportion to the size of the economy, and those picked for dynamic scoring by the chairmen of certain committees. While most of the debate on dynamic scoring has been over tax bills, trade agreements were also included in the types of legislation that can be scored using the method.

‘Budget Concepts' Panel Endorsed

Under questioning from Senate Budget Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Hall expressed support for a new “budget concepts” commission that would take a look at how the basics of the budget process—its definitions, timelines and mechanics—are organized. A 1967 commission came up with many of the ideas that made their way into the 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act (Pub. L. No. 93-344) that underpins the modern federal budget.. Some budget experts say a new commission is needed, given the age of the 1974 act as well as the sweeping changes in the scope and complexity of the budget since then.

“That document has been and continues to be very important for us,” Hall said of the 1967's commission's report. “It's used a lot. It has some important recommendations, but it's been a long time and there have been a significant number of issues that have arisen since 1967 and we've sort of dealt with that on a case-by-case basis. So, absolutely, I do think that something like a new budget concepts commission or some other format for reaching a consensus on a lot of these new issues that have popped up over the past almost 50 years I think would be very valuable to us and very helpful.”

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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman in Washington at hrothnman@bna.com.

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