Republicans change their tune on Congressional Budget Office after health care report

Despite criticism Monday, GOP leaders previously touted CBO reports.

March 14, 2017, 4:09 PM

— -- After the Congressional Budget Office released its report Monday on the Republican-backed American Health Care Act, estimating that if the bill becomes law, 14 million more people will be uninsured next year — a number that grows to 24 million by 2026 — supporters of the plan were quick to levy complaints against the office despite previous praise.

"The CBO looked at a portion of our plan but not the entire plan," said Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price. "We disagree strenuously with the report that was put out."

"We think that CBO simply has it wrong," he later said.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer led the pre-emptive impugnment of the office last week, saying, "If you're looking to the CBO for accuracy, you're looking in the wrong place."

"Anyone who can do basic math can understand their projections for Obamacare the last time were way, way off the mark," he said. "I think when they come out with this score, we need to understand their track record when it comes to health care."

The CBO says it stands by its estimates and notes that there can be some variation. A spokesperson for the agency pointed ABC News to the section of its current report that details "uncertainty surrounding the estimates."

CBO Director Keith Hall was chosen for the post by Republicans. In February 2015, then-Rep. Price, as the chairman of the House Budget Committee, along with his Senate counterpart, Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., selected Hall. At the time, Price offered nothing but praise for Hall, at the time the chief economist for the International Trade Commission.

"Keith Hall will bring an impressive level of economic expertise and experience to the Congressional Budget Office," said Price in a statement on Hall's appointment. "Throughout his career, he has served in both the public and private sector, under presidents of both parties and in roles that make him well suited to lead the CBO."

"In particular, during his time at the U.S. International Trade Commission, Dr. Hall has worked on providing Congress with nonpartisan economic analyses — a role similar to the responsibilities he will now assume as CBO director," Price continued.

Spicer similarly promoted the CBO and its predictions on his personal Twitter account on several occasions from 2012 to 2016 to knock the Affordable Care Act and other Democratic policies.

"New From @RNCResearch: CBO Confirms ObamaCare Is Bad For The Economy And Workers," tweeted Spicer in February 2014, linking to a Republican National Committee compilation of news stories on the CBO's estimate.

"CBO projects job losses with minimum wage increase," reads another Spicer tweet from the same month, with a link to a Reuters story covering the office's report.

In 2014, before he joined the CBO, Hall co-wrote an op-ed in The Hill opposing components of the Affordable Care Act — a position that aligns with that of Republicans trying to replace the plan. He said the legislation, known informally as Obamacare, would shrink the workforce and cited a report from his future agency.

"CBO recently found that the ACA will significantly penalize work, causing an exodus from the labor force the equivalent of more than 2 million full-time workers in just a few years," Hall wrote with Charles Blahous.

After the CBO's negative findings on the American Health Care Act, Price wasn't willing to completely dismiss the office's analysis. Asked if he was encouraging "lawmakers to disregard [the] report" Monday, he had a straightforward answer, saying, "No. We will read the report, look into the report, beyond the top lines."

Despite outcry about the CBO report among Republicans, many latched onto its conclusion that the American Health Care Act would reduce the federal deficit by more than $330 billion by 2026 and eventually lower average premiums for single policyholders by "roughly 10 percent" in the next decade.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., no stranger to speaking his mind, even when it comes to criticism of his party, summarized the GOP's position Monday, telling reporters, "We like the CBO when they agree with us. When they don't, they're a bunch of losers."

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