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Dump Gruber Ally, Doug Elmendorf, as CBO Director

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A critical decision facing the new Congressional majority is the appointment of a director for the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO acts, in the words of former Bush economic advisor and economics professor Greg Mankiw:

Someone recently said to me that the CBO director is not really a player in the political game. He is more like the referee. That analogy sheds light on why Doug is the right person for the job. What do you want in a good referee? Competence and impartiality. Doug has demonstrated both. He is a superb economist and, over the past six years as CBO director, has shown himself to be scrupulously non-partisan.

Reappointing Elmendorf would be a horrible decision because it not only keeps the office that scores all financial legislation in the hands of a dyed-in-the-wool leftist but it validates the way in which the Obama administration passed Obamacare.

As Ben Domench writes in The Transom:

Republicans on Capitol Hill are unlikely to listen to them, though, because they understand that by supporting Elmendorf, you are supporting Gruber. http://vlt.tc/1pwp  Elmendorf’s reappointment will mean that Gruber’s deceptive modeling methods will be retained, and the games CBO has played with Obamacare under Elmendorf will continue.http://vlt.tc/1pyr  What does that mean for any free market replacement for Obamacare? It will mean that it is scored according to Gruber and Elmendorf’s deceptive practices, which have continued in the years since its passage. http://vlt.tc/1k9o  So long as Elmendorf leads CBO and employs Gruber’s methodology, free market health care policies are effectively DOA – no one should have confidence in the ability or interest of CBO to score them fairly. It’s time to clean house.

People are also policy. By keeping a partisan Democrat — he was a senior political appointee in the Clinton administration, a position you don’t get by being “neutral” and “bipartisan”–  in a key position in Congress, the majority essentially gives the Democrats a veto over all tax and spending legislation and risks having initiatives sabotaged by a CBO that will be more than a little unclear on who is in charge. It also deprives the GOP of the opportunity to develop its own farm team. So long as we allow ourselves to be bullied into being “bipartisan” when we are in power and allowing Democrats to be unabashedly partisan when they are in the majority we will never develop that depth of experience we need to effectively use the power the majority has.

Relatedly, as the Obamacare debacle has shown the CBO is desperately in need of reform. In scoring Obamacare, the CBO acted like a referee–a cheap, bought, Third World soccer referee. As Yuval Levin points out in National Review:

In a few instances in recent years, especially in its estimates of the effects of the proposed Senate immigration bill (or more precisely, in its unwillingness to be clear about its baseline estimates of immigration levels) and in its peculiar decision to effectively give up trying to score the deficit effects of Obamacare, the CBO has stood in the way of understanding more than it has had to. I certainly wouldn’t say these were reasons to fire Elmendorf, but they might weigh against renewing him in a Republican Congress.

More important, though, it is well past time for a more dramatic change in the way Congress’s scorekeepers do business. Simply put, the modeling and scoring done by the CBO and the JCT involves a “black box” process closed to outsiders. The agencies are both staffed by hard-working and highly professional economists who try to ensure their assumptions and methods keep up with the latest academic research, but their models are opaque and proprietary — which also makes them seem arbitrary and unpredictable. This, combined with the importance of the scores they provide, means the two agencies can throw key debates into heated (if often highly technical) confusion.

The “black box” nature of their work also means that the CBO and the JCT often act as major bottlenecks in the process of policy development, as members of Congress (except for a few committee chairmen) must generally wait many months to get a proposal scored, and can never know if the time and work they have invested in an idea will prove pointless when the agencies return with an unexpected score. This drives many members away from proposing ideas, and it has also launched a small industry of outside modelers at universities and think tanks who try not so much to model the world as to model the congressional models.

Doug Elmendorf, the man who harnessed this opaque, black box system to the service of a political agenda does not need more time at the helm.

The graveyard, as they say, is full on indispensable men and one thing the nation is not short of is people who could manage the CBO who are not Democrats. Elmendorf needs to go and the nation needs someone in charge of CBO who is not tainted with cooking the books of Obamacare and loyal to the policies the nation repudiated on Election Day. Let Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) (@RepTomPrice) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) (@SenatorSessions) it is time for Elmendorf to go.

 

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