AP FACT CHECK: White House overly downbeat about budgeteers

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Posted: Mar 08, 2017 9:10 PM
AP FACT CHECK: White House overly downbeat about budgeteers

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump's spokesman went out of his way Wednesday to cast doubt on Congress' budget experts, perhaps anticipating disappointing results from a coming analysis of a Trump-backed plan to "repeal and replace" former President Barack Obama's health care law. Too far out of his way.

Citing the Congressional Budget Office's earlier estimates on the Obama law, spokesman Sean Spicer said, "If you're looking at the CBO for accuracy, you're looking in the wrong place."

He added, "I mean they were way, way off the last time in every aspect of how they scored and projected Obamacare."

Spicer is correct that CBO, well respected on Capitol Hill for the honesty and fairness of its work, overestimated the number of people who would sign up to purchase insurance in state and federal marketplaces. CBO had earlier predicted that 23 million people would be enrolled in such Affordable Care Act exchanges last year, for example, and the number proved to be about 12 million.

Experts say CBO's estimate was off in part because it overestimated the extent to which the individual mandate, which penalizes uninsured people, would prompt them to buy coverage. But former CBO Director Doug Elmendorf says the agency was right when it said employer-sponsored coverage would not drop sharply and "correctly predicted that insurance coverage would jump upward."

Added Elmendorf, "Predicting the effects of large policy changes is always difficult, but CBO's predictions for the ACA in 2010 were much more accurate than many Republican opponents of the law."

In fact, CBO has hardly been way off "in every aspect" of its predictions, as Spicer said.

A study by the liberal-leaning Commonwealth Fund foundation found that CBO's predictions were more accurate than other forecasters. "CBO did much better than other estimators — that has also been true in the past," said New York University professor Shelly Glied. "Nobody can actually foresee the future, but CBO seems to do a better job than anyone else."

It's also worth noting the widespread support CBO enjoys from both Democrats and Republicans. Its current director, Keith Hall, was chosen by Republicans and served on the Council of Economic Advisers in the most recent Bush administration. Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., a former chairman of the House Budget Committee, was a vocal supporter of Hall's predecessor, Elmendorf, who was named by Democrats.

The CBO analysis matters because it'll probably predict how many people would lose health coverage under the measure, which could be politically damaging. And if the plan doesn't meet the goal of at least saving the government a modest $2 billion, the legislation as written could be subject to a filibuster from Senate Democrats.

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