Republicans target CBO secrecy

Six House Republicans are going after what they say is Congressional Budget Office secrecy. 

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) has introduced the CBO Transparency Act to force the nonpartisan agency to divulge for the first time all of its sources and methods for scoring legislation.

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CBO acts as a sort of referee for Congress and the administration in providing budget scores and deficit estimates that show the economic affects of legislation. Democrats and Republicans at times have criticized its scores.

Murphy said CBO got it spectacularly wrong when it predicted President Obama’s healthcare reform would reduce the deficit by $143 billion, and was way off when it predicted that the huge Obama stimulus spending bill would creates 4.1 percent growth.

"CBO is an outlier in an era of transparency. Today, you can access government data on everything from hospital visits, crop yields, and air quality levels, which are used to produce major regulations by the EPA," he said on the House floor Thursday. He said more transparency would enhance CBO's credibility.

CBO is slated to release a re-estimate of the Obama healthcare law next week, taking into account the Supreme Court ruling that allows states to more easily opt out of Medicaid changes. 

Murphy's bill would require CBO to post on its website “all working papers, including data, informational papers, methodologies, spreadsheets, computer programs, background data, revenue estimates, and aggregate data provided by the Joint Committee on Taxation, and any other material used to derive such cost estimate.”

The Murphy bill is being heavily supported by Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, but so far has only six co-sponsors: GOP Reps. Paul Broun (Ga.), Louie Gohmert (Texas), Dennis Ross (Fla.), Steve Stivers (Ohio) and Pat Tiberi (Ohio), and Democratic Rep. Gene Green (Texas).

Murphy notes that CBO predicted "Obamacare" would only result in three to nine million people losing their employer-based insurance, while a McKinsey study put that figure at 80 million to 100 million. 

CBO produces some 600 formal cost estimates per year and uses enormous amounts of data to come up with them. It is unclear how feasible producing full documentation on all the estimates would actually be, budget experts say.

CBO does try to explain the main points of its estimates, and in March presented alternative scenarios to its health reform estimate. 

The bill has been sent to the House Budget Committee, where Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is examining it.