Critical Condition

How Much Does the CBO Report Matter?

The technically skilled folks on Senator Baucus’s Finance Committee staff have a lot of know-how and experience with CBO and how it works. This expertise is why they were able to come up with a draft proposal that, per the Washington Post’s above-the-fold headline, “would expand care without adding to deficit.” I suspect that there were a lot of high fives among the Committee staff in their Dirksen Building headquarters this morning.


But all is not perfect in Baucus land. The Washington Times said the Baucus proposal “falls flat,” as it did not secure Republican support and a number of Democrats seemed to have problems with it, including Senators Rockefeller, Nelson, and Wyden. Rockefeller even said that “the way it is now, there’s no way I can vote for the Senate package.”


Another thing to be aware of is the fact that CBO’s score is a “preliminary analysis of specifications for the Chairman’s mark,” and not an analysis of the document Baucus released yesterday. Knowing how CBO works, the Baucus staff sent CBO specifications, and not final legislative language, and timed Senator Baucus’s release to the release of the preliminary CBO analysis. CBO Director Elmendorf’s letter said that the CBO estimate is “subject to substantial uncertainty.” This is because the Baucus proposal still needs to endure a political process, and will be subject to significant amendments from the right and the left in Committee, as well as intense lobbying from affected interest groups. 


The bottom line is that Baucus’s folks scored a technical, but not a political, win yesterday, and a lot more maneuvering and horse-trading lie ahead.

Tevi Troy is a presidential historian and former White House aide. His latest book is Fight House: Rivalries in the White House from Truman to Trump.