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Hoisted from Comments: How Rich Is Fitzwilliam Darcy?: Archive Entry From Brad DeLong's Webjournal

Doug Elmendorf on the Hot Seat

Stan Collender:

CBO Could be Hurt Badly By Health Care Debate | Capital Gains and Games: At this point there's little doubt  that CBO is coming under attack from health care reform proponents for its analysis. For example, take a look at this column by Bruce Vladek in yesterday's Roll Call.  Although there are many, here's what I consider to be the money quote:

...CBO’s track record in predicting the effects of health legislation is abysmal. Over the last two decades, the CBO has routinely overestimated the costs of expanded government health care benefits and underestimated the savings from program changes designed to reduce expenditures.

This is actually a debate that's been raging for weeks in a variety of ways within the budgeting community.  I received a lengthy e-mail several days ago from a friend and budget scholar (whose name and material I don't have permission to use) that went into great detail about this.  That's typical.  After all, a discussion on estimating techniques is the stuff that dreams are made of for many budget wonks.

But when the situation changes dramatically when the discussion breaks out into the open as has happened with the very public dispute on this issue between Office of Management and Budget Director (and immediate past CBO Director) Peter Orzag and the current CBO Director Doug Elemendorf... here's the money quote from what Orzag posted in his blog on Monday:

In providing a quantitative estimate of long-term effects without any analytical basis for doing so, CBO seems to have overstepped.

That may seem gentle, but it's as close as you get to a knife fight among federal budgeteers...

I think Doug should have drawn a distinction between "we score this, and the savings are zero" and "we can't score this." Changes in congressional procedures that do not write spending levels into law are not things that CBO can bank on--but that doesn't mean they should score the at zero, because that's wrong too: congressional procedures do matter a lot. They should just not score them...