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Simple Answers to Troubling Questions

Doug Elmendorf Thinks He Has It Right...

The Note:

CBO Director 'Very Comfortable' With Health Care Cost Figures: 'I Don't Think We Were Gamed': Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf today defended his agency's handling of the health care law, telling reporters that he stands by the cost estimates of the Democratic-authored measures.

I am very comfortable with the numbers we released. There are a number of people who expressed concern that we were being gamed. And I worried about that throughout the year.  But I don't think we were gamed -- or at least not in the sense that people seemed to be using that word.

The final cost estimate produced by the non-partisan CBO -- that the health care measure would cost $940 billion over 10 years, and bring down the deficit over that same time period -- helped Democrats make their final case to power the bills to passage last month.

But the CBO numbers were harshly critiqued by some prominent Republicans. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, said the CBO numbers were based on “smoke, mirrors and gimmicks” offered by Democrats. Elmendorf said today that it was “well-understood” that some pieces of the Democrats’ legislation “would probably be difficult to sustain over the next decade or two decades.” Those caveats were included in the final CBO analysis, he said. But his office, he said, must develop cost estimates based on what’s presented by lawmakers.

In terms of the number itself, though -- as the law is written -- we have not changed our modeling in some way that would give us a different answer today. Undoubtedly, we will turn out to be wrong in one direction or the other. Our goal is to be in the middle of the distribution of possible outcomes, and I think we accomplished that. But I'm curious, too, to see how it ultimately plays out relative to what we expect.

What I want to know is where Elmendorf thinks the greatest points of political vulnerability are. Will Congress regularly assemble the supermajority to overrule the Medicare Panel recommendations, for example? Or will Scalia, Roberts, Alito, and company decide to cause trouble and strike down the Medicare Panel on the grounds that it is not enough of a creature of Congress to perform what are according to the Constitution legislative functions. (I cannot see how they could honorably do that without also striking down the entire Federal Reserve Act, which delegates core congressional powers--"coin money and regulate the value thereof" not just to officers commissioned by the President (albeit confirmed by the Senate) but to officers appointed by a self-selecting oligarchy of financial, commercial, and industral worthies. But I don't think anyone would seek to maintain the honor of the Supreme Court.)

But, of course, he would not say if I asked him...