House Budget chairman backs embattled CBO head

The new House Budget Committee chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), gave a very public endorsement of the embattled head of the Congressional Budget Office during his first major speech as committee head Wednesday night.

The comments about CBO's Douglas Elmendorf prompted Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) to call for the immediate reappointment of Elmendorf, whose term expired Monday and who has been under fire by some Republicans who say he aided Democrats in fudging the budget score of the Obama healthcare reform bill.

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Elmendorf, appointed in January 2009 to fill the last two years of a four-year term, is acting director now, and would like a full four-year term. In the past, an acting director seved for as long as a year.

According to CBO, the Speaker of the House and the president pro tempore of the Senate jointly appoint the CBO director, after considering recommendations from the two budget committees. By tradition, the House and Senate alternate in selecting the CBO director, and this year Conrad should be able to make the call since the House took the lead in 2009.

The key outstanding question is whether Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) would take the unusual step of blocking the reappointment. His office, and that of Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), declined to comment this week.

On Tuesday at his first pen-and-pad discussion with reporters, Cantor blasted Democrats for budget gimmickry surrounding the healthcare bill, but noted that CBO was only following instructions. A congressional aide emphasized that, contrary to some news reports, Cantor was not attacking CBO.

“You’re doing a great job at CBO, Doug,” Ryan said after receiving the first annual Fiscy Award for his efforts at tackling the national debt. He added that he looked forward to crunching budget numbers with him in the future.

Conrad, who also received a Fiscy Award at the gala dinner, along with Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, said he was “delighted to hear the support” expressed by Ryan for Elmendorf.

“That should be mean it is time to reappoint Doug. … It needs to be done, it needs to be a priority,” he said.

Ryan and Conrad used the occasion to pledge to work together to forge a long-term budget deficit reduction plan this year and to plead for bipartisanship on the issue.

“The solution is going to be a bipartisan one. … We need to put demagoguery on the back burner, we need to put the political weaponization of entitlement reform aside,” Ryan said.

“The easiest thing to do in this town is to get behind the partisan barricades and start throwing the bombs,” Conrad said. “The only way we make progress is for Democrats and Republicans to work together.”

Conrad said he was offering his hand to Ryan to work together this year.

He noted, however, that he believes there must be some raising of tax revenue in order to avoid draconian cuts, which is sure to be a matter of debate.
 
“If he is prepared to compromise, I am certainly prepared to compromise. It must be done,” Conrad said.

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