The Independence and Credibility of the CBO Are Essential

Blog Post
Wednesday, July 05, 2017
A Series

25 Fiscal Lessons

Learned over the course of 25 years, paving the way toward a better economic future.

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The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) provides a critical service for policymakers and the public: projecting the budgetary and economic impacts of proposed legislation. Since its inception in 1974, CBO has established an unparalleled track record for objectivity and analytical rigor.

CBO’s reputation was not established overnight; it is the result of more than four decades of consistently impartial analysis, facilitated by directors who worked tirelessly to maintain the organization’s credibility and objectivity. CBO’s methodologies and assumptions are fully transparent and are as analytically rigorous as any in Washington and the private sector.

Policymakers have at times criticized CBO, primarily when it provides unfavorable scores of policies that they support or favorable scores of policies they oppose. Democrats criticized it during the original debate over the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for underestimating the degree to which their proposals could control costs. Republicans have worked to undermine CBO’s credibility over its politically problematic estimates of the House GOP proposal for replacing the ACA.

But CBO’s projections have nonetheless served as the closest thing to a common set of facts for policy debates in Congress and among the American public. Without CBO’s work as the agreed-upon non-partisan source of budgetary projections, policymakers would be flying blind or worse, encouraged to “shop around” for the most favorable score. That would only increase the highly partisan atmosphere on Capitol Hill.

There should only be one official scorekeeper -- and CBO is it. A universally accepted baseline off of which to work is critical not only for policymakers, but for The Concord Coalition’s efforts to engage Americans on a grassroots level about the federal budget. The broad acceptance of CBO projections enables participants in budget exercises and policy forums to discuss and consider trade-offs based on commonly recognized facts. The independence and credibility of CBO should be considered beyond reproach so it can continue to serve its vital role as the impartial arbiter of public policy debates, both inside and outside the beltway.