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Manipulating the CBO: The Baucus Bait and Switch

An extremely important guest post from the Heritage Foundation

Throughout the health care debate, President Barack Obama repeatedly promised the American people that his health care plan “will help bring our deficits under control in the long term.” The problem is that the White House could not get the Congressional Budget Office to cooperate. Throughout the summer the CBO issued report after report showing that the versions of Obamacare working their way through Congress all added to the deficit.


First, CBO found that the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) bill would increase the deficit by $1 trillion. Three weeks later, the CBO released a report on a revised bill showing HELP 2.0 only raised the deficit by $597 billion. The House then got a little clever and tried to game the CBO scoring system by phasing in the major spending of their bill over time, but even that maneuver left them with $245 billion added to the deficit in the first ten years (with crippling deficits to come as the entitlement spending ramped up in the out years).

Enter Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-MT) who was determined to manipulate the CBO’s scoring system as best he could and deliver a deficit neutral version of Obamacare. After months of working directly with CBO staff, Baucus scored a victory for Obamacare yesterday when the CBO released a preliminary analysis purporting to show that the Baucus bill would reduce deficits by a total of $81 billion over the next decade. The New York Times awarded Baucus with the headline that the White House has been searching for since the debate first began: “Health Care Bill Gets Green Light in Cost Analysis.” But this headline and the accompanying article are fundamentally dishonest. As the Politico reported yesterday: “While the media and lawmakers often shorthand a CBO letter as a “score” or “cost estimate,” today’s CBO letter is neither. Because the bill is still in “conceptual,” or layman’s terms, CBO’s letter today was a “preliminary analysis.” For it to be an official cost estimate, the bill has to be translated into legislative language.”


Indeed, the CBO went to great pains to emphasize this fact in their letter to Congress: “CBO and JCT’s analysis is preliminary in large part because the Chairman’s mark, as amended, has not yet been embodied in legislative language.” But this isn’t even the most deceptive part of what the left in Congress is trying to pull on the American people. Not only does the Baucus bill not even really exist, just a Vapor Bill filled with conceptual language, it is about to be completely thrown out the window when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) merges it with the deficit busting HELP bill to move it to the Senate floor.

Then the real deception begins. Majority Leader Reid will then move to proceed on a House passed TARP tax bill, completely gut it, and insert his version of Obamacare. After the Senate passes the bill it will go to the House where if it is approved without amendment, it can then proceed directly to President Obama’s desk for signing. Throughout this whole time, the White House and the left in Congress will be using headlines like the one from the New York Times this morning to claim that Obamacare will reduce the deficit. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Baucus bill is the only version of Obamacare to get anything close to a deficit neutral nod from CBO and even that is done through creative deception. When it is combined with these other bills, Obamacare is certain to become an even greater budget buster once again. But the left’s entire strategy is to move fast so that a true CBO cost estimate of what Congress is actually voting on never happens.


Conservatives are fighting to make sure this deception is not perpetrated on the American people. Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) has introduced legislation that would change Senate rules to require a 72-hour waiting period and an official CBO cost estimate before the Senate was allowed to consider any legislation. If President Obama’s promises to the American people about ethics and transparency mean anything, then he should insist that Congress take its time and allow for a full CBO scoring of health reform.


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