Progressive wonks always bring a spreadsheet to a knife fight.

November 11th, 2014 at 9:18 am

I completely agree with my old colleague Peter Orszag who argues this AM that the new Republican majority in the Senate would make a big mistake were they to appoint a strongly partisan proxy to head the Congressional Budget Office when the directorship opens up next year.

While I’ve had some disagreements with their work, there’s no question in my mind that the current director, Doug Elmendorf, objectively applies the rules and findings of the current state of economics, finance, and budgeting to the analyses of the agency. In fact, my objections are always with those rules and “findings,” not with CBO.

With that in mind, Peter offers a good idea:

One of the strongest signals the new congressional leadership could send that it is indeed determined to govern responsibly would be to reappoint Elmendorf. The CBO’s independence, analytical prowess and respected role in policy-making would continue for four more years.

Rumors are circulating, however, that the new leadership might appoint someone who is more an advocate than an analyst. That would be a disaster for the organization. And it would show that the commitment to governing articulated by House Speaker John Boehner and soon-to-be-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell goes only so far. If Elmendorf is not re-appointed, the next director should at least be someone respected for his or her analytical skills, knowledge of policy and independence.

It’s a good point, but I fear it may be a naive one. What worries me is that the last thing the new leadership cares about is independence, analytical prowess, and respect in policy circles. Specifically, they may well be looking for someone who will embrace “dynamic scoring” of their budgets, building in bright rosy assumptions that make phat tax cuts pay for themselves by trickling down in ways CBO has heretofore been careful to avoid because such dynamics don’t occur in real economies. If they can stack the deck so that budget plans like those written by Rep. Ryan do not increase the long-term budget deficit (because they “pay for themselves” through the miracle of dynamic scoring), I have a hard time imagining that they won’t try to do so.

I hope I’m wrong, but this deserves careful and close watching. Facts have been on the run for a while now in our benighted capital and the results of the midterms give me little hope that they’ll find their way back here anytime soon.

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6 comments in reply to "Progressive wonks always bring a spreadsheet to a knife fight."

  1. Anonne says:

    Republicans care only about power and loyalty. Expect the worst.

  2. Jill SH says:

    I’m wondering if dynamic scoring played any part in the Brownback budgeting process in Kansas.

  3. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    If an ideologue is appointed, it will hasten the process of delegitimizing government that is already in play; low voter turnout being one more symptom of this process.

  4. Larry Signor says:

    How many Americans know what the CBO is? There is not a huge constituency of middle and lower income folks who care. They are too busy working just to survive to be interested in the Beltway BS. The GOP could probably appoint Rush the director of the CBO without suffering any political consequences.

    • Jo6pac says:

      Agree and in the last few years I wouldn’t call the numbers correct. I’m on SS there is know why they are.

      • Larry Signor says:

        Oh, me oh my…I guess it won’t be better in 3 years when my wife and my turn comes. But we will labor on, out of pride and stubbornness, I suppose. G/L to you, Jo6pac. Where did that SS money go? (I know, that is a rhetorical and stupit question). Just remember, Paul Ryan will save US all with the “magic asterisk”. No hope in the Dope.