As 2015 got underway, congressional Republican leaders had a decision to make. It wasn’t one of their high-profile choices – whether or not to shut down the government, whether or not to sabotage American foreign policy, etc. – but it nevertheless mattered quite a bit.
In practical terms, GOP leaders had to pick their accountant. Doug Elmendorf’s term as head of the Congressional Budget Office was nearly over, and Republicans were under pressure to reappoint him to another term. The recommendations made sense – Elmendorf developed a reputation as a respected, impartial economist, who was pretty effective in telling lawmakers – and by extension, all of us – how much stuff costs.
As we talked about late last year, the argument from mainstream conservatives was that Elmendorf could extend meaningful credibility to GOP proposals through favorable scores – if Elmendorf said Republicans’ numbers add up, everyone would know GOP lawmakers were taking their responsibilities seriously.
Soon after, right on cue, Republicans showed Elmendorf the door, and introduced Keith Hall, a “Republican stalwart,” as the new CBO chief. The strategy wasn’t subtle: GOP leaders wanted a Congressional Budget Office that would tell conservatives what they wanted to hear. Elmendorf wouldn’t, so he had to go.
In an amusing twist, it turns out that Hall isn’t the reliable ally Republicans expected him to be.
The new Republican-appointed director of the Congressional Budget Office delivered some bad news … to the party’s “Reaganomics” devotees: Tax cuts don’t pay for themselves through turbocharged economic growth.Keith Hall, who served as an economic adviser to former President George W. Bush, made the pronouncement at his first news conference after the CBO reduced its 2015 budget deficit forecast by $60 billion.
Hall spoke to reporters recently, shortly before lawmakers returned to Capitol Hill, and he threw cold water at one of the Republican Party’s top economic principles. “No, the evidence is that tax cuts do not pay for themselves,” Hall told reporters. “And our models that we’re doing, our macroeconomic effects, show that.”
For far-right lawmakers, the comments added insult to injury. Congressional Republicans were already seething after the CBO reported in June that if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, 19 million Americans would lose access to health care benefits and the deficit would grow by a third of a trillion dollars over the next decade.
GOP lawmakers expected the budget office to release figures that reinforced party talking points, not issue a report that made the party look even worse.
In other words, congressional Republicans went out of their way to ignore the advice of experts and choose a CBO chief who would tell far-right lawmakers how correct they are – and they ended up with a new head of the CBO who’s irritating Republicans with pesky facts and evidence.
The gang that can’t shoot straight strikes again.