The entire political world waited yesterday for a report from the Congressional Budget Office that would either allow Democrats to schedule a vote on Saturday for ObamaCare or collapse the effort altogether. The six PM deadline came and went without a peep out of the CBO, pushing any potential vote into next week. What happened? The Washington Times reports today that the CBO has found itself buried under the task of continually re-scoring ObamaCare proposals — and they’re not alone:
President Obama’s agenda has so overloaded Congress that its legislative gatekeepers – the analysts who score each bill and the auditors who weed out waste and fraud – can’t keep up.
Repeated requests from lawmakers seeking to have their health care reform plans evaluated have overwhelmed the Congressional Budget Office, where some health analysts are putting in 100-hour workweeks. Meanwhile, the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ chief investigative arm, says it needs an additional 144 staffers just to track waste and abuse from the $862 billion Recovery Act that was enacted last year.
“The almost-round-the-clock schedule maintained this past year by CBO’s current staff cannot be maintained much longer,” that agency’s director, Douglas W. Elmendorf, testified Wednesday to a House Appropriations subcommittee as he made a pitch to add new staff to his stressed-out team.
Mr. Elmendorf said the work is so continuous that his computer technicians have a hard time finding a chance to update software, since someone is almost always using the system, even to work from home at night.
When this health-care debate started, no one could have predicted that the CBO would be continually rescoring revised ObamaCare drafts into March. Don’t forget that Barack Obama originally demanded a bill by the end of July 2009, confident that a 60-seat Senate majority and a 70+ majority in the House meant easy passage. Instead, Democrats have conducted a number of back-room rewrites, huddling with lobbyists from Big Labor and others, to produce a non-stop series of versions of the bill. Each of those had to be scored by the CBO, and that takes a significant amount of time to accomplish for each iteration.
The GAO’s predicament was much more predictable. The massive outlay of government cash in Porkulus practically sent up flares for con men and fraudsters to take advantage of the Obama administration’s profligacy. Fraud always comes to the money, after all. The administration put Joe Biden in charge, but apparently failed to properly staff the function when the money got spent. Now the GAO needs almost 150 people to pick up the pieces long after the cash has gone out the door.
So when will the CBO have its umpteenth analysis of the umpteenth version of ObamaCare submitted by Democrats? When it finds time to breathe, they’ll let you know. In the meantime, though, we should consider whether the CBO has been overworked to the point of a reduction of quality in its analysis. After a few months, those 100-hour work weeks would make anyone loopy. Under the working conditions described by Elmendorf, how much confidence can we put in CBO analyses?
Update: And as soon as this post went up, the wire services have begun reporting a $940 billion price tag, under the magic $1 trillion that would have spelled political death:
House Democrats are on track for a Sunday vote on sweeping health care legislation that will expand coverage to millions of uninsured while also reducing the federal deficit, leaders said Thursday.
The bill delivers on President Barack Obama’s top domestic priority by providing coverage to more than 30 million people now uninsured at a 10-year cost of $940 billion. It does so through a combination of tax credits for middle class households and an expansion of the Medicaid program for low income people.
However, the AP is careful not to attribute that number to the CBO — and the CBO’s sites have no such analysis posted as of yet. It appears to be coming from Democrats on the Hill.
Update II: As I suspected, the source for this price is House Democrats:
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., today said the health care bill endorsed by President Obama would reduce the deficit by $130 billion over the next 10 years and by more than $1 trillion in the next decade.
In a report to be released today, the Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill will cost $940 billion over 10 years, according to Democratic House leadership.
And it may very well say that, but so far the CBO hasn’t said it. We’ll see, and then we’ll see how it got to that number and whether the claims made by Democrats this morning actually pan out.
Update III: Paul Ryan’s office has just released a statement saying that the CBO denies that they have completed their analysis:
The Congressional Budget Office has confirmed that there is currently no official cost estimate. Yet House Democrats are touting to the press – and spinning for partisan gain – numbers that have not been released and are impossible to confirm. Rep. James Clyburn stated he was “giddy” about these unsubstantiated numbers. This is the latest outrageous exploitation by the Majority – in this case abusing the confidentiality of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office – to pass their massive health care overhaul at any cost.