GOP moves to oust budget ref

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Republicans on the Budget committees are interviewing candidates to replace Douglas Elmendorf as head of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), according to four people with direct knowledge of the process. 

While GOP leaders haven’t publicly confirmed the plan to boot Elmendorf from the nonpartisan office, Republicans have approached several potential candidates about stepping in, sources say.

They also say the search is moving toward an end and that Republicans already have a shortlist of candidates.

{mosads}According to sources, those approached include Alex Brill, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and an economist on former President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers; Jeffrey Brown, a finance professor at the University of Illinois who also served on the Council under Bush; and Warren Payne, who was policy director under former House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.).

“I would just say that we are looking forward to having a new director and some changes,” Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), a member of the Budget panel, told The Hill on Wednesday.

Other possible candidates include James Capretta, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center who worked at the Office of Management and Budget under Bush; Katherine Baicker, a Harvard professor who played a leading role in developing health policy under Bush; Donald Marron, director of the Economic Policy Initiatives at The Urban Institute and former acting director at CBO; and Charles Blahous, the director of the Spending and Budget Initiative at George Mason University and deputy director of Bush’s National Economic Council.

Replacing Elmendorf would be a power move by House Republicans.

The CBO director is a budget referee tasked with scoring legislation drafted by Congress, and can have an enormous effect on policy debates on Capitol Hill.

Some Republicans have been annoyed with the CBO under Elmendorf because it has scored ObamaCare as reducing the deficit. The budget office also stopped scoring the fiscal impact of the healthcare law in 2014, claiming it would be impossible.

Elmendorf’s term expired on Jan. 3, but he can stay on until he is either reappointed or replaced. Blackburn and other GOP lawmakers have declined to offer details about who members are interviewing or a timeline for when a new director could be named.

Elmendorf’s presentation of the annual Budget and Economic Outlook report on Tuesday, however, could mean a transition will happen soon.

The chairmen of the Budget panels, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), have both declined to provide details about who will lead the CBO.

The House is taking the lead on the search. The two chambers rotate in selecting a new CBO chief, and it is now the lower chamber’s turn to pick.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) has said he’s been invited by Republicans to participate in interviews during a certain time frame, but refused to specify when.

“I think for a very long time, the final candidates have been interviewed by the chairmen of the two Budget committees, House and Senate, and by the ranking minority on both sides. It has been, very often, a bipartisan process,” former CBO Director Rudolph Penner told The Hill.

Many Republicans have praised Elmendorf’s run at CBO, which he’s led since 2009. In fact, in 2011, then-House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) backed Elmendorf’s reappointment.

Some GOP lawmakers suggest there’s no need for a change.

“I’m perfectly satisfied with the one we have now,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a close ally of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and member of the Budget Committee, told The Hill Wednesday.

“I think he did an admirable job. I think he’s extremely professional. I have a very high opinion of him personally and professionally,” Cole said.

Many other Republicans, however, believe Elmendorf should be replaced now that they control Congress.

They believe a new director could better implement “dynamic scoring,” the controversial method of putting a price tag on legislation that has long been backed by conservatives. It would require the CBO to incorporate any macroeconomic effects of legislation into their scoring if a bill is expected to have a significant impact on the economy.

The GOP thinks the tool would produce a more favorable analysis of Republican-backed tax reform legislation, for example. And in early January, the GOP-led House approved new rules that would require the CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) to use the scoring method.

Conservative groups, including Heritage Action, have urged Congress since last year to replace Elmendorf. In November, Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, outlined the rationale picking a new director in a letter to Boehner and then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

“I think he’s done an adequate job but I think with a new [Budget] chairman, and a new House and Senate, I think it probably appropriate to have it changed there,” Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.), another Budget member, said about Elmendorf.

Separately, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ryan, now chairman of House Ways and Means, have decided to keep Thomas Barthold as the JCT’s top scorekeeper for tax bills.

Barthold was first promoted to be the committee’s chief of staff in 2009 when Democrats were in control of Congress.

The final decision on Elmendorf’s fate lies with Boehner and Hatch, the president pro tempore. But the recommendations of the two Budget panel leaders will weigh heavily on their decision.

Updated at 8:26 p.m.

Tags Budget CBO Chris Van Hollen Douglas Elmendorf John Boehner Orrin Hatch Tom Price
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