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The Congressional Budget Office

Honest Numbers, Power, and Policymaking

Philip G. Joyce

Publication Year: 2011

Created in 1974, the U.S. Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has become one of the most influential forces in national policymaking. A critical component of our system of checks and balances, the CBO has given Congress the analytical capacity to challenge the president on budget issues while it protects the public interest, providing honest numbers about Congress's own budget proposals. The book discusses the CBO's role in larger budget policy and the more narrow "scoring" of individual legislation, such as its role in the 2009--2010 Obama health care reform. It also describes how the first director, Alice Rivlin, and seven successors managed to create and sustain a nonpartisan, highly credible agency in the middle of one of the most partisan institutions imaginable.

The Congressional Budget Office: Honest Numbers, Power, and Policy draws on interviews with high-level participants in the budget debates of the last 35 years to tell the story of the CBO. A combination of political history, economic history, and organizational development, The Congressional Budget Office offers an important, first book-length history of this influential agency.

Published by: Georgetown University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xii

I was a relatively new PhD working at the University of Kentucky in mid- 1990 when my telephone rang. It was Marvin Phaup from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Roy Meyers was leaving CBO, and CBO was looking for someone who had an interest in (and could analyze) budget process reform issues. Because my wife had just taken a job in Washington, I was looking to ...

List of Acronyms

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pp. xiii-xiv

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Chapter 1. Truth, Power, and Consequences

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pp. 1-14

In March of 2010 President Barack Obama signed two bills that codified a goal the Democratic Party had sought for sixty years—the passage of a comprehensive guarantee of health coverage. The specific provisions of the new law were heavily infl uenced by a set of principles established by the president, which had to do not only with expanding health coverage, but also with controlling ...

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Chapter 2. Organizing for Nonpartisan Analysis

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pp. 15-52

The CBO was born out of controversy between the executive and the legislative branches of the federal government. Part of this controversy involved a frustration among some with a lack of fiscal responsibility, particularly in Congress. This lack resulted from the decentralized nature of Congress—the notion that budget- making by committee was by its very nature ...

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Chapter 3. Macrobudgeting

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pp. 53-92

The Congressional Budget Act identifi ed two specific roles for CBO in support of the annual budget process—assisting Congress in establishing fiscal policy by enacting the annual budget resolution, and informing Congress on the cost of legislative proposals. In the first, which is the focus of this chapter, CBO was to support the new budget committees as they sought to ...

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Chapter 4. Microbudgeting

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pp. 93-121

The second major responsibility given to CBO was estimating the cost of legislative proposals Congress considered. This function, equivalent to the fi scal note requirements of many state and local governments, was considered critical because it would help Congress understand more fully the fiscal effects of proposed legislation. Before CBO was created, these cost estimates ...

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Chapter 5. Policy Analysis

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pp. 122-153

As discussed in chapter 2, Alice Rivlin’s early decision to separate policy analysis from budget analysis was a controversial and risky choice. By all accounts, she envisioned a Brookings-like role for the policy divisions, and wanted them to do comprehensive analyses of issues facing Congress that affected the economy and the budget. It is worth restating at this point that Rivlin’s ...

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Chapter 6. Clinton Health Plan: Bringing It All Together

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pp. 154-178

Until 2009 and 2010 CBO did not at any point in its history have a higher profile than it did in the months leading up to February 1994. That month, CBO released its analysis of President Bill Clinton’s health care reform plan. This plan was the centerpiece of Clinton’s domestic agenda. The CBO conclusions—that the plan would add to the deficit and that the transactions ...

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Chapter 7. Obama Health Care Reform

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pp. 179-206

On March 23, 2010, President Obama signed HR 3590 (PL 111- 148).1 When combined with a second and smaller bill approved a week later, this law is the most sweeping federal entitlement legislation in almost half a century—since, in fact, the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965.2 This result was far from inevitable, even after the election of Obama in 2008 ...

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Chapter 8. An Excellent Skunk?

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pp. 207-237

CBO has perhaps never been—before or since—in as precarious a position as it was in early 1995. Newt Gingrich and the Republicans had taken over Congress for the first time in forty years, and the new speaker threatened to clean CBO out. This was based on a view that CBO had really been just a tool of the Democratic majority, and that the only way to make the agency responsive ...


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pp. 239-250

E-ISBN-13: 9781589017580
E-ISBN-10: 1589017587
Print-ISBN-13: 9781589017573
Print-ISBN-10: 1589017579

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2011