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As GOP Health Care Push Moves To Senate, White House Questions Value Of CBO Analysis

President Donald Trump celebrates with House Speaker Paul Ryan in the White House Rose Garden Thursday after the House voted to pass the American Health Care Act.
Evan Vucci
President Donald Trump celebrates with House Speaker Paul Ryan in the White House Rose Garden Thursday after the House voted to pass the American Health Care Act.

After the GOP-controlled House passed a Republican-drafted health care bill Thursday without waiting for an analysis of the bill's costs and impacts by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the White House is signaling that Washington's official legislative scorekeeper could be its next political foil.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a spokeswoman for President Trump, told reporters Friday the White House feels "very confident in where the plan is, and moving it forward."

"I think I know the Gospel pretty well," she also said, "and I'd say the CBO is not the Gospel."

Sanders' comments came a day after Doug Elmendorf, who ran the CBO from 2009-2015 during the Obama administration, told Politico that the House's decision to vote on the GOP health care bill before the CBO could score the latest version of the legislation was "a terrible mistake."

"The members will have to explain why they supported something with a range of effects that people aren't gonna like," Elmendorf said. "At least if they waited for the estimate, they could make further changes to the bill that might respond to concerns. To go ahead with a vote before you know the effects of what you're voting for is a terrible mistake."

But Douglas Holtz-Eakin, another former CBO head who ran the agency from 2003-2005 in the George W. Bush administration, suggested that the changes to the bill weren't substantial enough to change the CBO's original analysis.

"I don't view this as a particularly unusual event," Holtz-Eakin told Politico. "They scored the base bill, and everyone knows what that looked like."

The CBO's analysis of the original GOP billconcluded that version of the legislation could leave as many as 24 million additional people without health insurance in the next decade while reducing the deficit by $337 billion during the same period.

After that original score, House Republicans changed the bill in an effort to win enough votes from both their most conservative and their moderate members in order to pass the bill without any support from House Democrats.

On Thursday, they narrowly passed their amended bill and Elmendorf argued that the changes were enough to justify waiting for another CBO analysis.

"For the House leadership to proceed to a vote without an estimate, they are essentially arguing that the bill is so much like the previous one they don't need an estimate, and yet, it is so much different that many more people should vote for it," Elmendorf also told Politico. "I don't see how you can argue that combination of things at the same time with a straight face."

But Sanders seemed to question the validity of any score the CBO might provide.

"They've been wrong before and they can certainly be wrong again,"she also said during Friday's White House press briefing.

The decision by House Republicans to move forward to a vote without an updated analysis has placed that issue — along with the GOP's push to overhaul health care legislation more generally — in the Senate's hands. And Congress' other chamber is making it clear it's not in nearly the same rush the House was.

Among other things, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday the chamber will first await the CBO analysis before proceeding.

Indeed, the agency's score of the bill passed in the House — especially its analysis of the bill's costs and potential impact on the deficit — would seem to be necessary before the Senate parliamentarian can determine whether Senate Republicans can use reconciliation procedures and potentially pass health care legislation with just 51 votes.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.
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