Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Murphy wants more CBO transparency

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Betsi Fores The Daily Caller News Foundation
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Pennsylvania Congressman Tim Murphy wants to know what is behind the veil of mystery that surrounds the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s lack of transparency. Last week, he introduced a two-page bill that would require the CBO, the basis for all legislative cost analysis, to reveal their methodology, which would allow for greater scrutiny of the organization’s results.

The proposed bill states the “Director shall post on the public website of the Congressional Budget Office all working papers, including data, informational papers, methodologies, spreadsheets, computer programs, background data, revenue estimates, and aggregate data provided by the Joint Committee on Taxation, and any other material used to derive such cost estimate.”

In an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation, Rep. Murphy said he was moved to introduce the legislation because he was concerned that the organization, whose findings are often used as the basis for legislative decisions, lacks transparency.

“Legislation is put forth that advances under the assumption that is will save money, and maybe it doesn’t,” Murphy said. “You have bills that advance under the assumption that there is no cost impact, and maybe it does or maybe it doesn’t. And you have bills that die that could save money, but they don’t get a chance to even get brought up for a vote because the assumption is that the CBO says it’s going to cost money.”

“Once they do show us the work, it is open to public scrutiny and this is extremely important,” Murphy continued. “So that individuals or organizations can say, ‘Wait a minute, we don’t think that you took into account all important factors.’ Or if you put a formula together that weighs certain issues greater than others, they may think, ‘we don’t think your weights are appropriate.'”

“I don’t even know what their formulas are,” Murphy added. “No one knows that.”

Created in 1974 by the Congressional Budget Act, the CBO produces reports that measure the economic impact of regulations and taxes in proposed legislation asked for by Congress. According to their website, their reports and estimates are reviewed “internally for objectivity, analytical soundness, and clarity,” as well as with the assistance of “outside subject matter experts,” and their  “Panel of Economic Advisers and a Panel of Health Advisers.”

Ultimately, however, the “CBO is solely responsible for the accuracy of its work.”

Because the CBO is under the legislative branch and not the administrative branch, they are not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests that could reveal a better picture of the inner workings of the office.

While appearing ostensibly nonpartisan, the CBO leadership is stacked with many Obama supporters, former advisers, and campaign contributors. CBO director Doug Elmendorf gave Obama $1000 in 2008, according to FEC records.

Melinda Buntin, the deputy assistant director of the CBO’s Health Services Department, is a longtime progressive and Democratic donor, one-time “spokeswoman” for Obamacare, and student of health care economist and Obama adviser David Cutler, who is also former CBO adviser.

The lead analyst of the impacts report of the 2009 stimulus package’s effects on unemployment, Benjamin Page, is also a Democratic supporter. He donated $2000 to John Kerry’s presidential campaign in 2004.

The CBO told TheDC News Foundation in an earlier email that “CBO employees are prohibited from participating in partisan political activity if such participation would identify or appear to identify CBO with a candidate, campaign, or cause.”

Tim Murphy disagrees. “I say this doesn’t pass the blind squirrel test,” Murphy said of CBO staff having known political ties. “A blind squirrel could figure this out.”

The issue is larger than just partisanship, however, says Murphy. “Many of these bills can have a significant economic impact. They are the ones, that if we’re looking at a 16 trillion dollar deficit, that we need to know.”

“What are you looking at, what are your assumptions, what data do you have. It is the same issue of scientific scrutiny when I have written or any one has written a research article and you publish it in a journal. You have to write down your results and how you came up with them.”

While the CBO may historically have been the “gold standard” for objective legislative analysis, Murphy feel it is so in a “take my word for it” kind of way. “I certainly have high regard for them … but show me, show us the math, show us the work, show us the assumptions.”

“I think you should get the folks in there who know how to crunch the numbers in a true nonpartisan way or lets stop calling it the nonpartisan CBO,” he said.

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Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact licensing@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.