The Congressional Budget Office

The Congressional Budget Office: Honest Numbers, Power, and Policymaking

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    The Congressional Budget Office
    Book Description:

    Created in 1974, the U.S. Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has become one of the most influential forces in national policymaking. A critical component of our system of checks and balances, the CBO has given Congress the analytical capacity to challenge the president on budget issues while it protects the public interest, providing honest numbers about Congress's own budget proposals. The book discusses the CBO's role in larger budget policy and the more narrow "scoring" of individual legislation, such as its role in the 2009-2010 Obama health care reform. It also describes how the first director, Alice Rivlin, and seven successors managed to create and sustain a nonpartisan, highly credible agency in the middle of one of the most partisan institutions imaginable. The Congressional Budget Office: Honest Numbers, Power, and Policy draws on interviews with high-level participants in the budget debates of the last 35 years to tell the story of the CBO. A combination of political history, economic history, and organizational development, The Congressional Budget Office offers an important, first book-length history of this influential agency.

    eISBN: 978-1-58901-758-0
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. List of Acronyms
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Chapter 1 Truth, Power, and Consequences
    (pp. 1-14)

    In march of 2010 President Barack Obama signed two bills that codified a goal the Democratic Party had sought for sixty years—the passage of a comprehensive guarantee of health coverage. The specific provisions of the new law were heavily influenced by a set of principles established by the president, which had to do not only with expanding health coverage, but also with controlling costs. Because of the costs, and because of general anxiety in the country about the expanding role of the federal government in the economy, a crucial focus in the legislative debate on health care reform had...

  6. Chapter 2 Organizing for Nonpartisan Analysis
    (pp. 15-52)

    The CBO was born out of controversy between the executive and the legislative branches of the federal government. Part of this controversy involved a frustration among some with a lack of fiscal responsibility, particularly in Congress. This lack resulted from the decentralized nature of Congress—the notion that budget-making by committee was by its very nature not confronting the problem of overall resource scarcity. Moreover, Congress itself became frustrated with what it perceived as its domination by the executive branch in the budget-making process.

    Congress is currently viewed as a more or less equal partner to the president on budgetary...

  7. Chapter 3 Macrobudgeting
    (pp. 53-92)

    The congressional budget act identified two specific roles for CBO in support of the annual budget process—assisting Congress in establishing fiscal policy by enacting the annual budget resolution, and informing Congress on the cost of legislative proposals. In the first, which is the focus of this chapter, CBO was to support the new budget committees as they sought to set overall fiscal policy by enacting, first, the annual budget resolution and, second, the related legislation that followed. The second role—costing budgetary proposals—is covered in chapter 4.

    Because the budget committees were the new kids on the block,...

  8. Chapter 4 Microbudgeting
    (pp. 93-121)

    The second major responsibility given to CBO was estimating the cost of legislative proposals Congress considered. This function, equivalent to the fiscal note requirements of many state and local governments, was considered critical because it would help Congress understand more fully the fiscal effects of proposed legislation. Before CBO was created, these cost estimates, as likely as not, would come from either advocates of the proposal (who would have an incentive to downplay the cost) or opponents (who would have an incentive to overstate it). Related to cost estimating is scorekeeping, which involves determining whether legislation considered by Congress meets...

  9. Chapter 5 Policy Analysis
    (pp. 122-153)

    As discussed in chapter 2, Alice Rivlin’s early decision to separate policy analysis from budget analysis was a controversial and risky choice. By all accounts, she envisioned a Brookings-like role for the policy divisions, and wanted them to do comprehensive analyses of issues facing Congress that affected the economy and the budget. It is worth restating at this point that Rivlin’s selection as CBO director represented the ascendancy of legislators in the policy analysis camp over those who envisioned a more limited number-crunching role for CBO. Creating program divisions for performing policy analysis, however, guaranteed neither that anyone would listen...

  10. Chapter 6 Clinton Health Plan: Bringing It All Together
    (pp. 154-178)

    Until 2009 and 2010, CBO did not at any point in its history have a higher profile than it did in the months leading up to February 1994. That month, CBO released its analysis of President Bill Clinton’s health care reform plan. This plan was the centerpiece of Clinton’s domestic agenda. The CBO conclusions—that the plan would add to the deficit and that the transactions under the plan should be counted in the federal budget—were credited (or blamed) at the time and continued to be cited more than ten years later as important factors in killing the Clinton...

  11. Chapter 7 Obama Health Care Reform
    (pp. 179-206)

    On march 23, 2010, President Obama signed HR 3590 (PL 111-148).¹ When combined with a second and smaller bill approved a week later, this law is the most sweeping federal entitlement legislation in almost half a century—since, in fact, the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965.² This result was far from inevitable, even after the election of Obama in 2008. Over the fourteen months between the president’s inauguration and passage of the bill, health care reform had a great many births, deaths, and rebirths. To an even greater extent than in 1994, CBO was in the middle of...

  12. Chapter 8 An Excellent Skunk?
    (pp. 207-238)

    CBO has perhaps never been—before or since—in as precarious a position as it was in early 1995. Newt Gingrich and the Republicans had taken over Congress for the first time in forty years, and the new speaker threatened to clean CBO out. This was based on a view that CBO had really been just a tool of the Democratic majority, and that the only way to make the agency responsive to Republicans was to replace not only the director, but the majority of the professional staff as well. This was painfully ironic, in a sense, as it came...

  13. Index
    (pp. 239-250)