Meadows: CBO should downsize, aggregate think tank reports
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) is trying to eliminate 89 positions from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office's staff and require the office to aggregate think tank data instead of using its own professional expertise.
“They ought to be aggregators; there are plenty of think tanks that are out there,” Meadows said at a National Press Club event.
In an amendment to be offered to the security-related spending bill scheduled for a House vote this week, Meadows would cut $15 million of funding to CBO staff members responsible for estimating the budgetary costs of bills in Congress, and have them "carry out such duties solely by facilitating and assimilating scoring data compiled by the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institution, and the Urban Institute."
The proposal follows after a series of CBO reports predicted that tens of millions of people would become uninsured under various Republican plans to repeal and replace ObamaCare.
Meadows said he would use a rule called the Holman Rule, which allows Congress to cut salaries for individual federal workers, for the first time since 1983.
The Freedom Caucus and many members of the Trump administration have been highly critical of the CBO. The CBO has consistently stated that efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act would lead to a 20 million-person increase in the nation’s uninsured.
The office will also score legislation such as tax reform, where deficit estimates will be crucial to passage.
“They’re the one group that makes a weatherman’s 10-day forecast look accurate,” Meadows said.
The amendment will be offered to the “minibus” spending bill due to come to the House floor this week, which combines four security-related appropriations bills into one.
Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, called the amendment an "attack" on the CBO.
“The constant attacks by Republicans on the integrity of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office proves they have no way of defending their health care bill that would leave more than 20 million Americans uninsured," he said.
"These attacks should be beneath Congress. They need to stop,” he added.
Others raised concern about the use of the Holman rule to defund individual federal employees.
“This is exactly what we worried about when Republicans reinstated this arcane rule in January,” seven Democratic House members from the DC metro area said in a joint statement. “The rule is being used to punish an important advisory body for doing its job by providing forecasts which some members now find inconvenient.”
On Friday, every former CBO director signed a letter to congressional leadership 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 letter pushed back on accusations that the CBO's scores did not hold up over time.
"CBO’s approach produces consistent comparisons of competing legislative proposals and unbiased projections of the impact of policy changes. Unfortunately, even nonpartisan and high-quality analysis cannot always generate accurate estimates," the directors wrote.
"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."
While the healthcare debate has put the CBO in the headlines, its day-to-day scoring work is devoted to bills that garner less attention and would be less likely to be reviewed by think tanks.
Last week, for example, it produced scores for bills such as the Amber Alert in Indian Country Act, Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act, and the Department of Veterans Affairs Bonus Transparency Act.