Tax Analysts Blog

The New GOP Congress and the Congressional Budget Office

Posted on Dec 8, 2014

Republicans will take over both chambers of Congress starting in January. Bill Cassidy's victory over Mary Landrieu in Louisiana pushed the GOP's Senate majority to 54 to 46, while several other runoffs in that state mean Republicans will have at least 247 seats in the House. This will give the party control over every committee and subcommittee. But some believe it isn't enough. They would like to see the GOP make sure that congressional staff falls in line with the new majority's policies.

Douglas Elmendorf has been the head of the Congressional Budget Office since 2009. His term is expiring, and The Washington Post, along with a few prominent Republicans and Democratic lawmakers, is calling for him to be reappointed. The argument is that extending Elmendorf's term will provide credibility to the budget scores for Republican-initiated legislation. If Republicans push for their own economist to head the CBO, it will look like they are trying to cook the numbers to support their tax reform and budget agendas.

Diana Furchtgott-Roth disagrees with this whole premise. Asking Republicans to reappoint Elmendorf to maintain continuity and credibility is like asking them to nominate Joe Biden to serve as vice president, she writes. "Republicans would be foolish to lose their opportunity to appoint a new CBO director," she argues, pointing out how important the position is to drafting new legislation.

Furchtgott-Roth also notes numerous instances in which Elmendorf's CBO seemed to provide estimates more favorable to the Democrats, particularly when the office was trying to forecast unemployment in 2009, after the enactment of a controversial stimulus measure. The CBO forecast unemployment between 7.8 percent and 8.5 percent, while Republicans argued that it would be over 9 percent. Actual unemployment was 9.9 percent nine months after the stimulus passed, she says. She also points to favorable CBO scores for the Affordable Care Act and a minimum wage increase as evidence that the office can lean one way or another.

There are many economists whose priorities more closely mirror Republican objectives who are just as competent as Elmendorf, Furchtgott-Roth concludes. "Just because they are sympathetic to reducing spending and taxes does not mean they are party hacks," she says.

Furchtgott-Roth is right to call out the disingenuous and odd argument that the GOP should keep Elmendorf to maintain its credibility and continuity. That same line of reasoning would lead to the conclusion that they should let Ron Wyden keep chairing the Finance Committee and reappoint Patty Murray to head the Senate Budget Committee. That's nonsense. The Senate has changed hands in a landslide election.

If Republicans accept the premise that shaking up congressional staff would make it look like they are rigging the process in favor of their proposals, that undermines the logic behind their priorities to begin with. The GOP shouldn't have to concede that an economist less favorable to a minimum wage increase, higher taxes, and more government spending is automatically suspect.

Read Comments (2)

travis rechDec 8, 2014

The Finance Committee is political. So is the Senate Budget Committee.

The CBO isn't.

The analogy doesn't work very well.

edmund dantesDec 8, 2014

On the contrary, the CBO has been utterly political in the Age of Obama, as
well as Gruberized. Now that it's been politicized, the Republicans have a
duty to grab the reins that have been handed to them.

Next I suppose you'll be saying that the IRS hasn't been weaponized under
Obama, when it obviously has.

What goes around comes around.

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