U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., speaks at the Freedom Summit, Saturday, May 9, 2015, in Greenville, S.C.
Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/AP

Trump’s budget director takes aim at inconvenient, independent data


Over the weekend, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) noted via Twitter some of the Congressional Budget Office’s findings about the Republican health care plan: millions would lose coverage, severe consequences for Americans with pre-existing conditions, and crushing premium spikes for the elderly. Schiff’s tweet was an accurate reflection of what the CBO’s independent analysis said.

And yet, there was Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), responding to Schiff’s message with a two-word reply: “Fake news.”

National Journal’s Ron Brownstein, one of the most measured of all Beltway media voices, noted that it’s “embarrassing for a Senate leader to describe” the Congressional Budget Office in those terms, which is more than fair. The intellectual laziness of Cornyn’s response was amazing, even by 2017 standards. That Cornyn is a member of the Senate Republicans’ health care “working group” – writing the Senate GOP’s legislation in secret – only added insult to injury.

But the Texas Republican’s flippant rejection of an independent analysis underscored a broader problem. The New Republic’s Brian Beutler, after noting Cornyn’s knee-jerk rejection of CBO data, explained this week, “In attempting to swindle Trumpcare into law, Republicans have relied on more than just false pretenses. They have sought to corrupt and discredit arms of government that were established to fight false pretenses with truth.”

Cornyn is hardly alone. The Washington Examiner had this report yesterday:

White House Office of Management Director Mick Mulvaney on Wednesday opened fire on the Congressional Budget Office…. Mulvaney, speaking in his office in the Old Executive Office Building, described the CBO’s scoring of the House Republican healthcare bill as “absurd,” arguing that it was a perfect example of why Congress should stop being so deferential to the group.

“At some point, you’ve got to ask yourself, has the day of the CBO come and gone?” Mulvaney said…. He said, “The days of relying on some nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office to do that work for us has probably come and gone.”

That’s not a throwaway line. What we have here is the White House’s budget director suggesting it may be time to eliminate the Congressional Budget Office from existence.

Note, Mulvaney may believe that the CBO score on the Republican health care plan is “absurd,” but he’s offered no competing data. Either the far-right budget chief doesn’t have alternative numbers, or he does have competing data that he prefers to hide out of embarrassment.

What’s more, given that Mulvaney just unveiled a budget plan with a jaw-dropping $2-trillion mistake – a colossal screw-up he says was intentional – perhaps the OMB director should avoid questioning the reliability of others’ budget analyses for a while.

But it’s the broader disdain for objective sources of information that really rankles. I’m reminded of a piece from the Washington Post’s Paul Waldman in March:

This is straight out of President Trump’s playbook, one that tries to convince everyone that there’s no such thing as a neutral authority on anything. If the CBO might say your bill will have problematic effects, then the answer is not to rebut its particular critique, but to attack the institution itself as fundamentally illegitimate. If the news media report things that don’t reflect well on you, then they’re “the enemy of the American People.” If polls show you with a low approval rating, then “any negative polls are fake news.” If a court issues a ruling you don’t like, then it’s a “so-called judge” who has no right to constrain you.

For fair-minded Americans, it should set off some alarms when politicians making life-or-death decisions argue that the public should listen to Republicans and their allies – and literally no one else.