Conservative House Republicans, enraged by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s findings that Obamacare’s repeal would leave millions without health care coverage, failed Wednesday in a bid to cut the agency’s budget and staff, a move that would have dramatically weakened its effectiveness.
The House rejected, 309-116, an effort by four conservative Republicans, including Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., to eliminate the CBO’s Budget Analysis Division. Eighty-nine jobs would have been eliminated and the division would be transferred to the CBO director’s office.
A separate plan to slash the CBO’s budget, authored by Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., failed, 314-107. Democrats were opposed to both measures while Republicans were divided on each.
"The CBO's fiscal analysis consistently is incorrect and as a result has detrimental implications on a variety of policies," Perry said during Wednesday’s debate in the House.
Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., top House Budget Committee Democrat, fired back that House Republicans and the Trump administration were "engaged in a steadily escalating campaign to tear down the Congressional Budget Office and anyone else who doesn't tell them what they want to hear."
"Republicans claim to care about fiscal responsibility but this amendment would destroy the office we rely on to help us meet that standard," Yarmuth said.
Established by Congress in 1974, the CBO is responsible for forecasting the cost and impact of legislation. Its director, Keith Hall, was chosen by Republican congressional leaders in 2015. At the time, Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., then budget committee chairman, said Hall would “bring an impressive level of economic expertise and experience to the Congressional Budget Office.” Price is now the Trump administration’s Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Republicans, including Price, attacked the CBO analyses that threw a wrench into their party’s effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
CBO found this spring and summer that millions of people would lose health insurance coverage under the major Republican plans. Last week, it found that under the Senate’s repeal plan, uninsured rolls would eventually reach 32 million.
House conservatives made it clear they’d had enough of the CBO.
“They are the one group that makes a weatherman’s 10 day forecast look accurate,” Meadows said.
Democrats argued that the CBO is a crucial tool in evaluating legislation.
"Just like you wouldn't drive a car while blindfolded, you shouldn't be voting on legislation without knowing what the real costs are, intended or unintended," Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., told House colleagues.
Supporters of the changes wanted CBO analysts to instead aggregate scores from both liberal and conservative think tanks including the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute.
Fiscal watchdog groups blasted the attempt to dilute the agency.
“I can understand frustration with the CBO ... but the answer to that is not to whack their budget,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.
“You don’t beat up the referee just because you don’t like the score,” Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said in a statement.
Contact: Anshu Siripurapu at 202-383-6009. Twitter: @anshusiripurapu