GOP says Obama is working CBO ‘ump’

Republicans insinuated Wednesday that President Obama is trying to influence the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in order to get a favorable cost projection for his healthcare reform proposals.

 Administration officials invited Doug Elmendorf, the director of the CBO, to the White House on Monday to meet with Obama and senior officials.

The invitation came a few days after Elmendorf testified that Democratic healthcare reform proposals crafted in the Senate and House would add to long-term government spending on healthcare, an assessment some Democrats have called “devastating.” Obama’s advisers have claimed that healthcare reform will eventually reduce government spending.

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Republicans suspect Obama may be trying to cajole Elmendorf into giving Democrats more favorable cost estimates.

“It strikes me as somewhat akin to an owner of a team asking the umpire to come up to the owner’s box,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said Wednesday.

“If the CBO is to have credibility — they’re the umpire, they’re not the players in this game, and I don’t think we ought to be tampering with an organization that is arguably controlled by the majority [party] here in Congress but nevertheless tries to function as an independent arbiter and estimator of the costs of what we do,” McConnell said.

White House spokesman Reid Cherlin said Obama had no improper motives.

“The president invited Mr. Elmendorf to the White House to discuss strategies for bringing down healthcare costs,” Cherlin said. “He’s committed to getting costs under control, and he’ll continue to seek opinions from experts on the best ways to do so.”

Elmendorf wrote on a CBO blog that Obama asked him and other outside experts at the meeting “for our views about achieving cost savings in health reform.”

 “I presented CBO’s assessment of the challenges of reducing federal health outlays and improving the long-term budget outlook while simultaneously expanding health insurance coverage,” Elmendorf wrote, describing the meeting.

 “People have asked whether it was exciting to meet the president and be in the Oval Office: Yes, and my kids will be jealous when they get back from summer camp and hear about it,” Elmendorf wrote. “Of course, the setting of the conversation and the nature of the participants do not affect CBO’s analysis of health reform legislation.”

Democratic leaders appointed Elmendorf to his post in January, but he has maintained strong independence, frustrating leaders with his high cost estimates of their healthcare proposals.

 Elmendorf has irked Democrats by refusing to recognize the full amount of savings they say their healthcare proposals will produce. CBO officials have hesitated to acknowledge hypothetical savings or revenues, a form of accounting known as dynamic scoring.

 CBO dropped a bombshell on Democrats in June when it estimated the legislation crafted by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee would add $1 trillion to the federal deficit and would reduce the number of uninsured by only 16 million.

A senior GOP aide said: “There’s no question about the motivation for the meeting. Last week’s CBO estimate knee-capped the House and HELP bills.”

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A second GOP aide said: “In all of CBO’s 35 years, this is the first time a CBO director has ever been called into the White House to meet with a president in this way.”

Democrats have suggested Congress jettison the CBO’s cost estimates and use projections from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which is headed by Peter Orszag, Obama’s chief guru on healthcare economics.

Orszag, however, has downplayed that possibility.

“CBO scoring is going to be used in this process,” he told reporters in June.

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