The Congressional Budget Office is a nonpartisan and unelected wing of Congress tasked with determining the cost of bills, and the agency operates as a budget referee on Capitol Hill in order to be an unquestioned arbiter of how much a bill will affect the treasury.
But in an attempt to save an Obamacare repeal bill under fire from all sides, congressional Republicans are working the refs.
Republican leadership is pre-emptively blasting the agency as a cadre of “unelected bureaucrats” who inaccurately reported the costs of the original Affordable Care Act bill in 2010, to hedge against bad news that could further damage the Obamacare replacement bill’s prospects.
“As our director said publicly earlier this week, we are working on the estimate and will publish it as soon as it is finished,” said CBO associate communications director Deborah Kilroe. The office also said providing more cost estimates earlier in the lawmaking process would require more resources.
As our director said publicly earlier this week, we are working on the estimate and will publish it as soon as it is finished.
Deborah Kilroe, CBO associate communications director
The Republican plan to repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act does not yet have a CBO cost estimate, and the measure could cost billions while making it harder for millions of people to obtain health insurance. The CBO score, which is set to be announced as soon as Monday, could alarm fiscally conservative Republicans concerned about budget deficits and make it harder for the much-maligned bill to pass.
Outside analysts already have offered some takes on the legislation. Rating agency Standard and Poor’s released a report saying between 6 million and 10 million people would lose insurance if the plan is passed, which could cause moderate Republicans to demand changes.
“This is the same CBO that when Obamacare did come to the floor they made all those great promises about how it was going to lower premiums,” Republican Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana said during a markup hearing on Wednesday. “The CBO, and the president, talked about how it was going to reduce the deficit. Remember, that promise was broken. When the CBO comes up with a score, that’s great, but in the meantime we’re not going to wait for some unelected bureaucrats to provide relief from Obamacare to the American people.”
The White House, which supports the current partial-repeal bill but is open to changes, also blasted the CBO this week.
“If you’re looking to the CBO for accuracy, you’re looking in the wrong place,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said. “They were way, way off last time in every aspect of how they scored and projected Obamacare.”
The CBO did overestimate the number of people who would enroll in Obamacare, and major providers continue to leave the program. Just 10.4 million people were enrolled last year, about half of the CBO’s estimate of 22 million.
But fewer employers than anticipated stopped offering health insurance because of the federal law, meaning people who the CBO thought would enroll in Obamacare stayed in private insurance plans. Also, more people than anticipated turned out to be eligible for Medicaid, which further reduced the number of people in the law’s insurance exchanges.
If you’re looking to the CBO for accuracy, you’re looking in the wrong place.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer
The CBO was much closer to the mark when it came to Obamacare’s overall impact on health care coverage. Just under 90 percent of Americans under age 65 had health insurance last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2013, just before the exchanges were launched, 83.4 percent of people under age 65 had health insurance.
Democrats protested moving forward with the bill in committee this past week before the CBO estimate was released, and they unsuccessfully offered amendments that would have stalled the legislation until a score was made public.
“We’ve had no public hearings, no congressional budget score,” said Democratic Rep. Gene Green of Texas.
Republicans, including former House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton of Texas, say there will be a CBO score before the bill reaches the House floor later this month but that the agency is in need of an overhaul.
6 million to 10 million The estimate from rating agency Standard and Poor’s of how many people would lose health insurance under House Speaker Paul Ryan’s plan
“I don’t know what they do, they sit around and think great thoughts and everything on the issues,” Barton said. “One of the things we need to do is reform the CBO folks.”
Barton, who said, “We’re all God’s children, we all want a CBO score,” during committee markups this week, said the CBO’s cost estimates could drastically change in the coming weeks as the bill moves through Congress.
But the CBO score is just one piece in a giant lawmaking puzzle. House Speaker Paul Ryan must find enough Republican votes to pass his party’s biggest campaign promise.
If cost estimates are too high, conservative members like Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul will have more ammunition in lambasting the law as a new federal entitlement. And if the number of people who could be booted off insurance is too high, moderate Republicans who represent districts with thousands of people on Obamacare could pull their tepid support.
“This is going to take time to get all the other pieces in place, but we are committed to reforming this,” said Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Greg Walden, R-Ore.
Tony Pugh contributed to this report.