Will Republicans Destroy the CBO?

Paul KrugmanPaul Krugman has seen the future and he has named it, Voodoo Economics, the Next Generation. It follows upon the news that indicates that the Republicans have a very good chance of taking control of the Senate. (See The Ballad and Sam and Nate for more details.) There isn’t a great deal of damage that the full Republican control of the Congress can do because Obama can veto most anything that comes out of what will quickly be dubbed the Crazy Congress. But there is one thing that the more nerdy of the political observers are very concerned about: the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

The CBO was created in 1974 by the Nixon administration to do economic and budgetary analysis for Congress. It has always done a shockingly good job. It often annoys this or that politician, but no one ever complains too loudly, because it is strictly nonpartisan. That doesn’t mean it is always right. In fact, it is very often wrong about its projections. But that’s the world of economic analysis. What’s important is that it provides the standard economics of any given set of circumstances.

A good example of this is that it doesn’t do “dynamic scoring.” It doesn’t make the assumption that cutting taxes will actually increase tax revenues because the cuts will cause the economy to grow so much. This is what Bush the Elder called “voodoo economics” when running against Ronald Reagan in 1980. And he was right. It has simply never been the case that cutting taxes caused more tax revenue. But oh don’t people like Paul Ryan want it to be true! This is because they want to claim to be for balancing the federal budget at the same time that they cut taxes on the rich. This was, you may remember, both the Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan budget plans. They were going to balance the budget, and the first step was to cut taxes.

Krugman made an interesting historical note. As nutty as the Bush the Younger administration was with four years of complete control of Congress, no move was ever made to turn the CBO into a partisan whipping boy. But now, it looks like the Republicans will do just that if they get complete control of the Senate next year. Krugman ended his article:

Would they actually do it? It would destroy the credibility of a very important institution, one that has served the country well. But have you seen any evidence that the modern conservative movement cares about such things?

Back in 2003, Krugman published, The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century. In the introduction, he talked about Henry Kissinger’s doctoral dissertation where he discussed how revolutionary groups disregard norms. They do whatever is in the interest of their cause, and thus do anything and everything that is technically legal.

So no, I haven’t seen any evidence that the modern conservative movement cares about things like maintaining the reputation of the CBO. Or anything else for that matter. The only thing that might hold them back is that the Republicans already think in a postmodern way. Sure the CBO is highly respected by normal commentators. But the Republicans can always get a couple of hacks at the Heritage Foundation to say that your tax cuts will lead to 2.8% unemployment. As they say with global warming, “They have their experts and we have our experts.”

But the Republican thinking on the CBO might be different than that. There is still that, “Reality has a well known liberal bias.” The CBO can be depended to side more with Democratic plans, because they are based on the real world. Ruining the CBO, even if it were later fixed, would take some of the gloss off it. And people outside the Republican Party might think of it as “just another partisan source.” What’s more, destroying the reputation of the CBO could lead to its elimination. The Republicans would love that.

Regardless of what happens to the CBO, one thing is certain: if the Republicans gain complete control of Congress next year, they will do as much harm as they possibly can. That’s what revolutionary groups always do.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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