Key budget office caught in crosshairs by Biden’s spending plan

Pressure mounts on the lead agency tasked with assessing the budget impact of the legislation, as the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) processes figures for a $ 1.75 trillion social spending and climate package. dollars that Democrats are working fast to pass.

The CBO score is a cornerstone of President BidenJoe BidenBiden and Xi of China to hold virtual summit on Monday: Briahna Joy Gray reports: Biden ‘plays dumb’ with cancellation of student debt Defense and national security – Biden celebrates Veterans Day MOREThe economic agenda will be a turning point for lawmakers in the House and Senate.

If the score is above $ 1.75 trillion, it could hit the Sen. Joe manchinJoe ManchinOvernight Energy & Environment – Presented by ExxonMobil – Manchin Criticizes New Spending Bill Provision Climate Change – Hope for How (Literally) Save the World On The Money – IRS Chief Calls for Reinforcements MORE (DW.Va.) and other centrists a reason to oppose the measure and push for additional cuts. Progressives have already seen their precious $ 3.5 trillion measure cut in half.

Next week’s vote in the House is also related to the work of the CBO. Moderate House Democrats have said they want more “tax information” from the CBO on the bill.

Everything has focused on the unstable works from an office that Congress relies on for the math on the possible economic effects of government policy.

With lawmakers on hiatus this week, the CBO has begun releasing cost estimates for certain sections of the bill, such as Speaker Nancy pelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Energy & Environment – Presented by ExxonMobil – Kerry Announces Climate Statement with China Navy Veteran Launches Challenge to Gottheimer in New Jersey There is still a chance for Democrats, if they don’t screw it up MORE (D-Calif.) Try to set up a vote next week. Those estimates only represent a fraction of the overall “score” the CBO is expected to produce on the bill in the coming weeks.

“I guarantee you CBO is working hard,” Keith Hall, who served as CBO director from April 2015 to May 2019, said in an interview with The Hill.

He said the agency’s work capacity is likely to be at “peak load” as they examine the more than 2,100 pages of legislative text that make up Biden’s Build Back Better Act.

Typically, Hall said lawmakers will work with the CBO for months as they draft legislation, often involving members running the office’s draft language to get rough estimates of budget impact.

Ultimately, that does two things. One, it reduces the surprises, ”Hall said. “So they already generally know what the CBO is going to say when they make a formal request. And secondly, it allows them to do a lot of work ahead of time because these things can take weeks or even months. “

Additional changes to the text, Hall said, can increase that time.

In recent months, Democrats have made significant changes to Biden’s spending plan.

As the size of the bill was reduced, there were significant changes to proposals for a national paid family leave program, health care policy, and tax increases targeting the wealthy and corporations.

“They are in the middle of negotiations. They’re thinking about things and if they keep rolling out changes, which sometimes seems like a pretty modest change to them, CBO has to rerun their models and rerun everything, “said Hall. “And that, that may take a while.”

Democrats are passing the bill through a process known as budget reconciliation, which will allow them to pass the measure in the evenly split Senate with a simple majority and avoid Republican filibuster.

No Republican will back the bill, which means Democrats can afford just three defections from their side in the House and none in the Senate.

Republicans have launched a pressure campaign targeting billions in proposed spending, while calling for a full CBO score, a process that could take weeks, for the package before the bill hits the floor.

in a statement On Tuesday, CBO Director Phillip Swagel made it clear that “the analysis of the many provisions of the bill is complicated” and that he will only publish “estimates for the individual titles of the bill as we complete them.” .

“Other estimates will take longer, especially for the layouts of some titles that interact with those of other titles. When we determine a publication date for the estimated cost of the entire bill, we will notify you in advance, ”he said.

Pressed on some of the programs that might be difficult to qualify for, Zach Moller, a former Democratic Senate budget aide, pointed to the policy that addresses health care, which is expected to cover a significant portion of the party’s spending plan. through the proposed changes in the price of drugs. the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Medicaid.

“Health care is always difficult to model and estimate because the health sector is very large and has components from both the government and the private sector,” he said. “How people choose to use health care, how people help people get their health insurance coverage, there are a lot of moving parts to health care.”

Hall, who led the CBO when Republicans tried unsuccessfully to repeal and replace the ACA through budget reconciliation in 2017, recalled some of the frustrations his office felt from lawmakers when it qualified the legislation.

“They were very frustrated that they were going to make a change and we would have to re-run the health insurance model, which is modeling health insurance in 50 different states,” he said.

“The model would literally have to run overnight, take overnight to run, and then literally a week or two to process the information,” he said.

An aide familiar with the CBO’s current scoring on the Democratic-led bill told The Hill on Thursday that they anticipate more estimates on the bill to be completed later this week.

Five House moderates – Democratic Representatives. Ed caseEdward (Ed) CaseMORE (D-Hawaii), Josh gottheimerJoshua (Josh) Gottheimer The budget scorer begins posting estimates for the Democrats’ massive spending plan. Navy veteran issues a challenge to Gottheimer in New Jersey. (DN.J.), Stephanie murphyStephanie MurphyNew ad campaign targets five House Democrats for inflation. (D-Fla.), Kathleen RiceKathleen Maura Rice Budget scorer begins publishing estimates for Democrats’ massive spending plan CBO indicates lawmakers will have to wait for full score on social spending 12:30 The Hill Report: Democrats await score of the CBO for the bill on social spending MÁS (DN.Y.), and Kurt schraderWalter (Kurt) Kurt SchraderNew ad campaign targets five House Democrats for inflation. The budget accountant begins publishing estimates for the Democrats’ massive spending plan. (D-Ore.) – issued a statement last week that said they plan to vote on the bill next week if the information released by the CBO “is consistent” with the White House data provided to members on the main income and investment lines for the legislation.

A couple of other Democratic centrists in the House of Representatives did not sign that statement, and their votes on the package are in doubt.

Moller, who serves as director of the economic program at the centrist think tank Third Way, said he believes lawmakers should already have enough information between the White House and recent estimates released by the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) to move forward. in the camera. .

“Because the bill contains so many different pieces, it is really difficult for the House to functionally expect a full score from the CBO,” he said.

Scoring is a must in the Senate, which cannot pass the bill under budget reconciliation rules without it.

Moller said the Senate MP will also need to assess whether certain provisions violate the Byrd rule, which limits what lawmakers can pass through reconciliation.

“The House does not have a Byrd rule. It is really for the Senate that the CBO score will be necessary, ”he said.

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