The week of President Obama's first inaugural, David Brooks had some advice for the new White House team. President Obama, the columnist said, is "going to have to prove the hard way that he meant what he said about being pragmatic and evidence-based. That means he won't sweep a C.B.O. study under the rug simply because the findings are inconvenient."
More than four years later, Obama and his team have met this standard, and taken independent budget figures seriously, even when the numbers were disappointing.
The president's rivals will struggle to say the same thing. Let's take Jim DeMint, for example.
DeMint, the former senator who now leads the Heritage Foundation, used to love the CBO. In fact, as Jon Perr noted, DeMint co-sponsored legislation four years ago that would have required every bill to be scored by the CBO at least 72 hours before a Senate vote.
But now that DeMint is trying to derail immigration reform through bogus budget data, he's suddenly less impressed with the independent CBO reports he used to like (thanks to my colleague Nazanin Rafsanjani for the tip). Here he was on NPR yesterday:
"Unfortunately the Congressional Budget Office is really a puppet of how Congress writes bills.... Like with Obamacare, the Congressional Budget Office said it won't cost anything."
DeMint made similar comments on ABC:
"Well, CBO said Obamacare wouldn't cost us anything. They're basically puppets of the Congress and the assumptions they put in the bill."
For the record, the CBO didn't say the Affordable Care Act "wouldn't cost anything"; it said the health care law's cost savings and new revenue would more than compensate for the new expenditures and lower the debt over time. The fact that DeMint doesn't understand this is odd.
But putting that aside, the effort to undermine the CBO's credibility is off the mark and obviously ideologically motivated. That it's coming from a Republican who celebrated the CBO until it told him what he didn't want to hear makes this all the more jarring.
DeMint wants people to believe immigration reform will cost at least $6.3 trillion, a figure that even many conservatives consider ridiculous. But DeMint can't just push the bogus statistic, he also has to tear down the CBO before lawmakers take the independent budget estimates seriously.
Why? Because the CBO has told lawmakers about the economic and fiscal benefits of reform, especially as undocumented immigrants pay more taxes, on top of fines and fees that are part of the bipartisan approach. Specifically, the CBO found that domestic spending would increase by about $22.7 billion over 10 years under the last comprehensive plan, but the CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation also estimated that reform would increase revenues by $48.3 billion during the same period -- lowering the deficit, not raising it.
If DeMint wants to say he rejects CBO data, fine. That's misguided, but it's up to him. But what's annoying is a problem that has long plagued the right -- when the office is telling Republicans what it wants to hear, the Congressional Budget Office deserves our respect. When CBO information runs counter to their agenda, Republicans consider the CBO unreliable, worthless, and "a puppet."
In 2009, DeMint wanted CBO scores for every bill. In 2013, DeMint sees no value in CBO scores at all. It's almost as if the president of a "think tank" isn't interested in intellectual consistency at all.