Dems warn GOP: No 'ideologue' in budget job

Senate Democrats are warning Republicans to tread carefully with their selection of a budget scorekeeper for the new Congress, saying they will “strongly object to any effort to politicize this important office."

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"Appointing a new [Congressional Budget Office] director on the basis of ideology would fundamentally compromise the integrity of an institution that has served as a trusted scorekeeper," a group of Senate Democrats wrote in a letter sent to Republican leaders and budget chairmen.

As one of their first acts this year Republicans must decide whether to give another term to Douglas Elmendorf, the director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

While the CBO job is little-known outside Washington, it holds enormous power. The “scores” handed out by the office — measuring the impact of legislation on the budget — are often make-or-break for legislation, particularly if a bill is found to add to the deficit.

With Republicans seeking to move through a slew of bills in 2015, prominent conservatives such as Grover Norquist have been pushing for the appointment of a new CBO director who is seen as more favorable to “dynamic scoring” that takes into account the broader effect of taxes on the economy.

That has drawn protests from Democrats, who say Republicans are seeking to rig the rules to further legislative goals such as the repeal of ObamaCare, a bill that the CBO has long scored as reducing the deficit.

"A CBO director should not be required to revise the score of the Affordable Care Act in order to please partisan interests," the Democrats wrote.

To have a director seen as favorable to the GOP would "end a long-standing and important tradition of having a non-partisan" director, Democrats wrote, and could pose a "real risk that Republicans will endanger opportunities for bipartisan cooperation."

The letter was signed by Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Mark Warner (Va.), and by Sen. Bernie Sanders, and independent who caucuses with Democrats and will be ranking member of the Senate budget panel next year.

The choice of CBO director ultimately falls to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the new president pro tempore, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). They will make the selection after receiving recommendations from the Budget panels, which will be led by Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.).

Democrats pushed for the reappointment of Elmendorf, arguing he “has served with distinction and maintained CBO’s long-standing commitment to even-handed analysis grounded in the fair and dispassionate application of mainstream economic principles and rigorous methodology, not ideology.”

“Elmendorf’s record and the importance of continuity in such a critical position are compelling reasons why he should remain in the position, and we hope very much that you will reach that conclusion,” they wrote.

Updated at 2:14 p.m.