GOP lawmakers question CBO score on ObamaCare repeal

GOP lawmakers question CBO score on ObamaCare repeal

Republican lawmakers are raising questions about a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that says repealing ObamaCare would increase the deficit. 

The report says repeal would add $137 billion to the deficit over 10 years — a huge sum that could complicate the GOP’s response to the looming Supreme Court King v. Burwell ruling on the healthcare law, which is expected as early as Thursday.

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Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonSunday shows — New impeachment phase dominates Rand Paul says Trump has 'every right' to withhold Ukraine aid over corruption Johnson dismisses testimony from White House officials contradicting Trump as 'just their impression' MORE (R-Wis.) criticized the CBO report’s “tortured logic,” while Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump attends football game with Jeff Sessions' Alabama Senate race opponent Bradley Byrne Impeachment tests Barr-Trump relationship Tide, Tigers and Trump: President hopes for home-field advantage in Alabama MORE (R-Ala.) predicted it would not be accurate.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziEleven GOP senators sign open letter backing Sessions's comeback bid Senate committee advances budget reform plan Bipartisan Enzi-Whitehouse budget bill a very bad fix for deficits MORE (R-Wyo.) dismissed the estimate, noting the scorekeeper wasn’t looking at a specific GOP repeal bill, so “it doesn’t really count.”

The comments highlight the importance of the score, which could make it more difficult for the GOP to use a fast-track process known as reconciliation to repeal the law.

They also highlight the tension among Republicans, who are struggling to rally around a response to the coming King v. Burwell ruling. 

Reconciliation would prevent the Senate minority from filibustering a bill repealing the Affordable Care Act, meaning the GOP could pass it with no Democratic votes. As a result, Republicans have keyed in on the legislative maneuver.

However, reconciliation requires that a measure reduce the deficit, not add to it.

The GOP criticism of the CBO is all the more notable because Republicans earlier this year handpicked Keith Hall, the organization’s new director. Hall, who served as staff economist for former President George W. Bush, replaced former Director Douglas Elmendorf, whose scores had sometimes led to GOP complaints.

The budget office often faces criticism from lawmakers in both parties who disagree with its scores, and it did not comment for this story.

Republican angst has been growing in recent weeks as the Supreme Court ruling has neared.

If the court rules against the administration, it could invalidate insurance subsidies for an estimated 6.4 million people using the law’s federally run marketplaces in at least 34 states.

The GOP response plan outlined by House leadership last week includes repeal of ObamaCare after two years.

Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoCentrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren's agenda Eleven GOP senators sign open letter backing Sessions's comeback bid GOP senators discuss impeachment with Trump after House vote MORE (R-Wyo.), who is leading the Senate Republican effort to find a response to King v. Burwell, has said the GOP plans to use reconciliation for its response.

House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) said Republicans could not use reconciliation to repeal all of ObamaCare, however, because of Senate rules limiting the process to taxing and spending issues.

“What they did was look at repeal of the entire law, which is not possible under reconciliation,” Price said of the CBO. As a result, he argued the report is “apples and oranges” to what Republicans will be putting forward.

Price said it is “possible” that the reconciliation bill will include a Republican response to King v. Burwell as well as measures to repeal as much of the law as would be allowed under the rules.

“You only get one chance at reconciliation,” he said. 

He also suggested GOP leaders are working to address the expectations of rank-and-file members.

“We’ve been working to make sure people have an understanding of the things that can be done through reconciliation,” Price said.

Other members were more critical of the budget office.

“I think the CBO’s analysis, in terms of effect on the deficit, is pretty muddled, and I think it’s pretty tortured logic, so I think what you ought to focus on is if we repeal ObamaCare, that will help our economy grow,” said Johnson, the author of a prominent Republican response plan. 

Sessions said the CBO projection would not have much staying power. “I think as time goes by, that score is not going to remain accurate,” he said. 

He also noted Republicans might not be repealing the whole law.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that Congress is going to want to maintain some of the things that were in ObamaCare that we supported at the time it passed, such as pre-existing conditions and things of that nature,” he said, “so I think you’ll have some cost, and you’ll have revenue, and it should pay for itself.”

The CBO report finds that repealing the healthcare law would add $137 billion to the deficit over 10 years using a new method of projection that takes into account the law’s effect on the economy. If the economic effects are not included, the CBO projects repeal would add $353 billion to the deficit. 

While ObamaCare includes billions in new spending, the budget office says, it more than makes up for that spending by cutting Medicare payments and raising taxes. 

 

Republicans have latched on to the part of the report that projects repealing ObamaCare would boost the economy. The report projects gross domestic product would rise by 0.7 percent, mainly because repealing ObamaCare would incentivize more people to work.