Why did Obama meet with the CBO?

posted at 3:30 pm on July 21, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

Barack Obama disclosed an unusual meeting with the CBO, presumably its director Doug Elmendorf, in his Today Show appearance this morning with Meredith Viera. The relevant clip comes at the three-minute mark, where Viera challenges Obama on the CBO scoring of the health-care reform bills:

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OBAMA: And so, what we’ve got to do, is to bend the cost curve over the long term. And we’ve put forward a whole series of proposals to do that, and the Congressional Budget Office and every health care expert have looked at many of our proposals, and they’ve said, “You know, this has a good chance of working.” Not all of them have been adopted by Congress yet —

VIERA: But — not to beat a dead horse here, but again, the Congressional Budget Office is looking at those bills that are out there, and they’re saying they do not contain costs. Any one of those bills, would you sign them, based on what you see?

OBAMA: Right now, they’re not where they need to be. But I promise you, I just met with the Congressional Budget Office today, so I know exactly what they’re saying. And what they’re saying is, is that the cost savings that are in those bills right now, some of them may actually work, but they’re not enough to offset the additional costs of bringing in 46 million new people to provide.

Why is this important? The CBO exists to keep a check on the executive branch. The “Congressional” part of CBO is no accident. Congress created the CBO as a means to provide oversight over the White House and its use of the budget and its fiscal projections:

Two developments provided the impetus for the enactment of the Budget Act in 1974. One development was an increasing realization by Congress that it had no means to develop an overall budget plan. Prior to 1974, Congress responded to the President’s budget (which contains the President’s many spending and revenue proposals) each year in a piece-meal fashion. There existed no framework for Congress to establish its own spending priorities before work began on specific spending and revenue bills during the spring and summer.

A second, and more immediate, cause for passage of the Budget Act was a dispute in the early 1970’s regarding presidential authority to impound money appropriated by Congress. During this time, President Nixon repeatedly asserted authority (as had many of his predecessors) to withhold from Federal agencies money appropriated by Congress. By 1973, it was believed that President Nixon had impounded up to $15 billion of spending previously approved by Congress. A large portion of these funds were to have gone towards the building of highways and pollution control projects. Many in Congress disputed these actions by the President.The authorization for the pollution control projects, for example, had been enacted by Congress in 1972 with a strong vote in both Houses overriding President Nixon’s veto. Nonetheless, the President impounded much of this spending. These events led Members of Congress to seek a legislative solution.

In 1974 Congress enacted the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act to establish procedures for developing an annual congressional budget plan and achieving a system of impoundment control. The Budget Act also created, for the first time, congressional standing committees devoted solely to the budget. It also created the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to serve as the “scorekeeper” for Congress. CBO is responsible for producing an annual economic forecast, formulating the baseline, reviewing the President’s annual budget submission, scoring all spending legislation reported from committee and passed by the Congress, and preparing reports in compliance with the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act. CBO’s policy with respect to providing estimates is set out in Appendix B. The Joint Committee on Taxation scores all revenue measures.

In other words, the CBO exists for independence from the executive branch in fiscal matters. If Barack Obama needs clarification on CBO scoring, he should work through Congress to get it, rather than demand face time with the CBO director. Even more appropriately, the President should work through his own Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director for analysis of CBO scoring. In this case, Obama has Elmendorf’s immediate predecessor, Peter Orszag, as his OMB Director, who should be able to figure out a CBO analysis on his own and help Obama understand it and respond to it.

After this came to my attention, I contacted two sources in Washington and asked if presidents routinely conferred with the CBO on budget scoring. Both called this highly unusual and could not recall if or when it had been done in previous administrations. It treads on the entire process of legislative oversight and threatens the independence of the CBO from the administration, which is essential for Congress — if it’s interested in independent analysis.

At best, this looks like a move made out of ignorance of the constitutional checks and balances of the federal government. It appears more like an attempt to browbeat the CBO into more sympathetic scoring of presidential initiatives. Congress should act quickly and forcefully to remind Obama about the boundaries of his executive power.

Update: Elmendorf blogs about this meeting:

I was invited to the White House to meet with the President, his key budget and health advisers, and some outside experts. The President asked me and the outside experts for our views about achieving cost savings in health reform. I presented CBO’s assessment of the challenges of reducing federal health outlays and improving the long-term budget outlook while simultaneously expanding health insurance coverage–just as we had explained these challenges in a letter to Senator Conrad and Senator Gregg last month. I also described CBO’s view of the effects of the health legislation we have seen so far, as I did last Thursday in a hearing at the Senate Budget Committee and a mark-up at the House Ways and Means Committee. In addition, I discussed various policy options that could produce budgetary savings in the long run, drawing on CBO’s Budget Options for Health Care released in December, our letter to Senators Conrad and Gregg last month, and my comments last Thursday. Other participants in the meeting expressed their own views on these various topics.

But the CBO doesn’t create policy. It’s supposed to be a scorekeeper, and allow Congress to create policy. This feels like an attempt to either intimidate or co-opt the CBO, neither of which would be a good thing. The entire meeting seems highly inappropriate.

Update II: This seems mighty familiar to Brian Faughnan, who recalls Senator Max Baucus demanding that the CBO stop playing independent arbiter and start throwing the numbers to support a government takeover of the health-care industry.

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The hate crimes legislation is probably going to pass.

JiangxiDad on July 21, 2009 at 4:16 PM

I read somewhere that heterosexuals and whites are specifically excluded from the hate crime bill. Will look for link.

JiangxiDad on July 21, 2009 at 4:17 PM

And so, what we’ve got to do, is to bend the cost curve over the long term.

Ummm, change the numbers to fit your scheme?

If you do that in the business world the SEC comes down on you like a ton of bricks. Our president is not worldly. I’m beginning to think he’s just smart either.

FireBlogger on July 21, 2009 at 4:18 PM

Maybe Michelle is at the height of her mating season or something.

SouthernGent on July 21, 2009 at 4:02 PM

I believe you are right.

portlandon on July 21, 2009 at 4:20 PM

Action Alert: Maryland and Virgina. Please lock you horse stables at night. Democrat operatives may be roaming the countryside looking for horses to behead for intimidation purposes.

WashJeff on July 21, 2009 at 3:44 PM

Maybe that’s how they limit equine population growth, for $700 million.

Steve Z on July 21, 2009 at 4:21 PM

Just tried to call my Senator’s office to discuss this/leave a message. The young lady who answered the phone didn’t even know what the CBO was.

I am starting to believe that they are only good for putting hash marks in the “for” or “against” columns on the pad next to the phone for big issues and that’s it. I’m going to be writing a lot more letters/emails from now on.

HadithHarry on July 21, 2009 at 4:23 PM

This administration doesn’t believe in independance. Only in blind obediance.

MarkTheGreat on July 21, 2009 at 4:23 PM

“So Doug, nice family you got there…it would be too bad if something happened to them…”

Chicago-style politics at its best (or worse). Let’s face it, he is trying to get everyone to play in the same socialist sandbox. This was not done out of some ignorance of the protocol, but rather to exert pressure.

lovedinthekeys on July 21, 2009 at 4:23 PM

Obama: Mr. Elmendorf, aren’t you one of those Inspector General thingies who misinform the American people about their President? You can be replaced…

Steve Z on July 21, 2009 at 4:25 PM

For years, AFA and other pro-family groups have issued warnings about federal Hate Crimes legislation. The reality is that the purpose of this bill is to silence those who speak out against homosexuality. If the legislation passes, pastors could be prosecuted under the federal inducement statute for preaching the biblical view of homosexuality. For example, a person could commit an act of violence against a homosexual individual and blame it on the pastor’s sermon. Similar laws have been used to prosecute religious speech in the U.S. at the state level and abroad.

JiangxiDad on July 21, 2009 at 4:25 PM

Imagine if Bush had undocumented meetings with the CBO during the Republican control of Congress, about budgetary policies, what the headlines would be on the leftwing news outlets?

eaglewingz08 on July 21, 2009 at 4:29 PM

I want to know if Mr. Elmendorf has received any dead fish lately…

Buckeye Babe on July 21, 2009 at 4:33 PM

I just don’t get why we’re not seeing the video below all over the news, etc. – where is the big table with steaming video that Obama promised???? What we’ve got is “unusual” meetings and closed door meetings with everyone except the Repubs. – this is nuts.


sherryande on July 21, 2009 at 4:39 PM

At best, this looks like a move made out of ignorance of the constitutional checks and balances of the federal government.

Ignorance of Constitutional law? BHO supposedly TAUGHT constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004.

heroyalwhyness on July 21, 2009 at 4:40 PM

He is planning on firing him — LOL.

tarpon on July 21, 2009 at 4:42 PM

critics looking to raise hay about the President keeping a close conference with CBO on possible budget savings will find little sympathy from the public. Oh he !!Should have Gone Through Congress! Because they are just sooo efficient. /sarc

your paranoia is showing…

TruUSA on July 21, 2009 at 4:43 PM

your paranoia my and my President’s ignorance about the US Constitution is showing…

TruUSA on July 21, 2009 at 4:43 PM


dmh0667 on July 21, 2009 at 4:55 PM

Is anyone in their right mind actually going to believe that you can add that many people and NOT pay more for it and add to the deficit??? I swear this country only hears what it wants to hear.

We are so screwed.

momof2 on July 21, 2009 at 4:56 PM

If this were Governor Palin there would be 1/2 dozens lefties lined up at the courthouse filing suit today.

Hear anything from the Re-eunic-ans?

Throw em all out Sarah. Run third party and run all their asses over, Term Limits, National Sales Tax, Same pay/benefit scale for congress critters and senate scum as the U.S. military.

Citizen legislators not Aristocracy and Patriarchs!
I’m sick of em ALL!

dhunter on July 21, 2009 at 4:56 PM

Congress should act quickly and forcefully to remind Obama about the boundaries of his executive power.

Boundaries. What boundaries. He is the emperor and HE sets the boundaries.

Sporty1946 on July 21, 2009 at 5:04 PM

I read somewhere that heterosexuals and whites are specifically excluded from the hate crime bill. Will look for link.

JiangxiDad on July 21, 2009 at 4:17 PM

Aren’t military veterans specifically excluded as well?

ladyingray on July 21, 2009 at 5:08 PM

heroyalwhyness on July 21, 2009 at 4:40 PM

BHO only took/taught constitutional law so as to learn how best to undermine and ignore it.

Sporty1946 on July 21, 2009 at 5:11 PM

Wouldn’t it make sense to tax the people who are receiving the benefit? Since, BO wants to get rid of the tax cuts from the Bush years, and increase their taxes to the point of where they were before Bush became President, why not put on the table of putting EVERYONE’s taxes at the rate they were before Bush became President. In effect an across the board tax increase of 10% would be a tax increase for the rich, right? I am not advocating, only suggesting a little fairness. I would just love to hear the howling.

duggersd on July 21, 2009 at 5:14 PM

Aren’t military veterans specifically excluded as well?

ladyingray on July 21, 2009 at 5:08 PM

Yep… as a White Male Hetero Vet… I am sooo scroomed… (combo of screwed and doomed…).

Romeo13 on July 21, 2009 at 5:18 PM

This guy is a TOTAL Nimrod. He can’t answer a question that he doesn’t have a canned answer for. It’s all platitudes and focus group terminology bs.

Hey Barry, if someone goes Bankrupt because they can’t pay their medical bills, guess what? They don’t pay the medical bills either you jackass.

PappaMac on July 21, 2009 at 5:37 PM

Wow, Barry’s has some big bags under his eyes. Not sleeping well?

portlandon on July 21, 2009 at 3:35 PM

Newport hangover.

baldilocks on July 21, 2009 at 5:44 PM

You guys keep fighting this bastard every step of the way for us. He and the left has got to be defeated.

hawkdriver on July 21, 2009 at 3:38 PM


You’re in my prayers, friend.

baldilocks on July 21, 2009 at 5:51 PM

Obama to CBO: “These are not the numbers you’re looking for.”

econavenger on July 21, 2009 at 6:03 PM

heroyalwhyness on July 21, 2009 at 4:40 PM

Sporty1946 on July 21, 2009 at 5:11 PM

Look past the law school instructor. Also called a professor in some accidental overstatement on his resume.

The best way to illustrate the effect of The One on the Constitution or any of our religious or secular traditions and laws is like the B movie exchange where the two characters are looking at some dismembered victim. And, after a gasp of disgust, one says: “Oh my God!!!” Then the other answers: God had very little to do with this, Carol.”

But then again, it might apply more aptly to someone looking at our nation after a term or two with this gentleman in control.

Sad. Truly sad.

IlikedAUH2O on July 21, 2009 at 6:11 PM

At best, this looks like a move made out of ignorance of the constitutional checks and balances of the federal government.

When are you going to stop giving him the benefit of the doubt. He fooled you more than once already.

chemman on July 21, 2009 at 6:23 PM

Hmmmm…..Chicago Style Politics…..who’d a thought that would happen. Perhaps Elmendorf will wake up with a bloody horse’s head in his bed.

GarandFan on July 21, 2009 at 6:54 PM

With each passing day America looks more and more like some Banana Republic.

Jay Mac on July 21, 2009 at 7:59 PM

Another thought- Obama’s spinning the meeting as being positive but just a few days ago the CBO specifically stated that Obamacare would significantly add to Federal spending…I mean debt.

And one other thing – Obama says the costs won’t yet cover bringing in 46 million people, but the latest projections have about twice that being dumped into the public option.

Jay Mac on July 21, 2009 at 8:05 PM

I think when he meets people in private he uses the Jedi mind trick. Either that or he threatens them somehow.

I prefer to think he’s got unearthly powers.

shick on July 21, 2009 at 8:40 PM

And here he is at a Virginia townhall meeting on July 1:

And for those who say, well, you know what, this is something that is very complicated so we shouldn’t rush into it — that’s what happens in Congress all the time. They have hearings, they write white papers, and then suddenly the lobbyists and the special interests start going at it, and the next thing you know, another 10 years has gone by and we still haven’t done anything. That’s not what’s going to happen this time. I am going to keep on pressing until we get it done this year. All right.

Yeah, well that’s how things work here in American government. I guess if you were from around here, you’d know that.

Mr. Pickles on July 21, 2009 at 9:24 PM

There’s no such thing as inappropriate in an Obama administration. Are we even sure Elmendorf came out of the meeting without a lobotomy or a shock collar?

Griz on July 21, 2009 at 11:53 PM

All we need is the Deathmobile and 10,000 marbles and we can defeat Obama!

Calling Senator Blutarski!!!!!

SmallGovtGuy on July 22, 2009 at 1:25 AM

And people tink he’s gaing to be a one-term POTUS.The word”President “will not longer be in the vocabulary after 2016.

DDT on July 22, 2009 at 4:24 AM

I commented a couple of weeks back that the Democrats were going to do everything in their power to turn the CBO into a partisan organization that would say whatever they wanted to hear.

TrickyDick on July 22, 2009 at 1:58 PM

First the IGs and now the CBO. Isn’t our president supposed to be a constitution scholar. R-i-i-i-i-ght.

amr on July 22, 2009 at 2:27 PM