Cooking the Public Books

The phrase for today, boys and girls, is “dynamic scoring.” We’ll likely be hearing a lot about dynamic scoring when the new Congress convenes, because dynamic scoring is high on the Republican agenda.

What is dynamic scoring? This has to do with the Congressional Budget Office, the doggedly nonpartisan office that analyzes whatever Congress is up to that might impact the federal budget. The CBO has always used what’s called “static scoring,” which actually isn’t all that static, to make projections.  Edward D. Kleinbard, a law professor at the University of Southern California and a former chief of staff of the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, explains:

Whenever new tax legislation is proposed, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office “scores” it, to estimate whether the bill would raise more or less revenue than existing law would.

In preparing estimates, scorekeepers try to predict how people will respond to a new tax law. For example, if Congress contemplates raising the excise tax on cigarettes, scorekeepers consider existing trends in cigarette consumption, the likelihood that the higher taxes will induce some smokers to quit, and the prospect that higher prices will increase incentives for cigarette smuggling. There are no truly “static” revenue estimates.

How would dynamic scoring be more dynamic? Might I remind you this is a Republican idea? Could you guess if I told you Paul Ryan is a big fan of dynamic scoring? That’s right, folks — dynamic scoring adds an assumption that tax cuts will raise revenues.

So if Republicans get their way, future CBO projections will will filled with rainbows, unicorns and confidence fairies.

 A lot of Republicans also want to replace the CBO chief to appoint someone who will reliably give them analyses more to their liking. In other words, they want to “capture” the CBO and turn it into a propaganda tool for the Republican Party. Whether they’re going to get away with this isn’t clear. Note that they object to the current guy, Doug Elmendorf, not because CBO projections have been wrong, but because they don’t always fit right-wing narratives.

Elmendorf’s term actually ends today, but apparently he’s going to stay on the job until Congress decides what it is doing. This may take awhile.

9 thoughts on “Cooking the Public Books

  1. Congratulations to NY Jets fans!

    Thanks to dynamic scoring, I have determined that despite your terrible year, that you are the best team in the NFL this year – so, come on down and accept the Super Bowl trophy.

    Your first since the week before Richard Nixon was inaugurated for his first term in 1969!

    I have also have good news for Chicago Cubs fans!
    Thanks to dynamic scoring…

  2. Two ‘have’s” make me look like an @$$hole.

    No,not at all, gulag. It keeps us alert. Plus we get to feel good about ourselves. There but for the grace of God, go I.

  3. This is not the first time Republicans have had to deal with recalcitrant experts and their annoying facts. Google “Richard Foster” and “Medicare Part D” for a nice trip down memory lane. I was at a Society of Actuaries Annual Meeting shortly after this kerfuffle. Mr. Foster was one of the General Session speakers. Before he could begin though, he had to wait for the standing ovation to end.

  4. I’m definitely getting old. This is the 3rd or 4th time I have seen this kind of bullshit go by. I’d be glad I’m gonna die fairly soon, but then….watch my next incarnation start 15 minutes later than that. maybe I’ll get to be a starfish in the abyssal depths next time-it *might* take all this insane greed awhile to get that far. Maybe…..

  5. This change to “just make believe” scoring is a reaction to the CBO’s analysis of Paul Ryan’s previous budgets. In the recent past, the CBO has had to add disclaimers to Ryan’s work to explain that they are required to outline what would happen IF the (unrealistic, indeed, likely impossible) claims made by Ryan were true. Here’s an explanation from Ezra Klein in 2012:

    Naturally, Ryan et al. don’t like it pointed out that they are putting their thumbs on the scale (mighty big thumbs at that), so they are pushing for this cheating to be baked in to the system.

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