Republicans take aim at Congress' nonpartisan scorekeepers
Night falls over the U.S. Capitol.
By Steve Benen
As the debate over health care heats up, Republicans are fighting battles on multiple fronts. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and his allies have to worry about, among other things, intra-party divisions, Democratic criticisms, denunciations from industry stakeholders, spirted progressive activism, and opposition from most of the nation's most prominent conservative organizations.But one foe looms larger than any other. The New York Timesreports:
President Trump showed an affinity for “working the referees” in his race to the White House, criticizing a federal judge as biased, panning polls as rigged and even questioning the aptitude of the nation’s intelligence agencies.Now, with Mr. Trump’s administration aggressively pitching the House Republican plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Capitol Hill’s official scorekeeper — the Congressional Budget Office — is coming under intense fire. As it prepares to render its judgment on the cost and impact of the bill, the nonpartisan agency of economists and statisticians has become a political piñata — and the latest example of Mr. Trump’s team casting doubt on benchmarks accepted as trustworthy for decades.
At some point very soon, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is going to issue a non-partisan report on the impact of the Republicans' American Health Care Act, which some are calling "Trumpcare." The analysis will provide all kinds of important data, including the cost of the GOP bill and how many Americans are likely to have health insurance if the Republican proposal is implemented.The CBO's conclusions are not likely to be flattering -- which is why Republican leaders are scrambling to push their bill now, before lawmakers and the public have all the facts, since reality is likely to cast "Trumpcare" in a very unflattering light.But GOP officials can only rush so much, and the CBO score will be available long before the American Health Care Act comes to the floor for a vote. That, in turn, leads Republicans to believe it's time to go after the Congressional Budget Office's credibility now, so when the report is released, assorted partisans and pugilists will dismiss the findings.On the surface, this is plainly ridiculous. No one's ever suggested the CBO is perfect, but to preemptively attack Congress' scorekeepers, with a series of claims that aren't true, in order to mask a bad bill's flaws, adds insult to legislative injury.There's also, of course, the hypocrisy of Republicans praising the CBO in the not-too-distant past, only to dismiss the office's reliability now.But just below the surface, there's a larger pattern of GOP efforts to undermine confidence in objective sources of information. The Washington Post's Paul Waldman noted yesterday,:
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.To Trump and increasingly to his Republican allies, there are only two kinds of people in the world: the ones who agree with them (who are the best people, fantastic, believe me) and the ones who don’t (who are losers and haters). There is no in-between and no such thing as neutrality.
I put together a little image to help drive home the point.