NPR logo Boehner Disses Experts Who Say Health Law Repeal Would Boost Deficits

Boehner Disses Experts Who Say Health Law Repeal Would Boost Deficits

Speaker John Boehner makes a point while Majority Leader Eric Cantor listens. Alex Brandon/ASSOCIATED PRESS hide caption

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The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Congress' official cruncher of numbers, is normally viewed as the best source of information about what complex legislation is likely to cost taxpayers.

In Congress' hotly partisan battles, lawmakers view pronouncements by the CBO that square with their side of the argument as powerfully persuasive. It's certainly better to have CBO with you then against you.

So House Democrats defending the health-care legislation seemed to be in a strong position after the CBO sent a letter to Speaker John Boehner Thursday reporting that a repeal of the law like that House Republicans are pursuing would add $230 billion to the deficit between 2012 and 2021.

But Boehner quickly demonstrated one method members of Congress have been known to use to deal with CBO projections they disagree with. They ignore them. Or trash them.

Boehner actually didn't so much ignore the CBO as suggest the accountants there had a garbage-in, garbage-out problem.

It wasn't the CBO's fault, he said. They had to work with the faulty assumptions they were given, Boehner told reporters.

Here are parts of his exchange with reporters Thursday:

REPORTER:  But Mr. Speaker, the Congressional Budget Office just announced today that repealing the health care bill will add $230 billion to the debt by 2021.  Are you worried about the signal that it sends when you vowed to cut the debt that the first major legislative action you take will increase the debt?

SPEAKER BOEHNER:  Well, I do not believe that repealing the job-killing health care law will increase the deficit.  CBO is entitled to their opinion, but they're locked within constraints of the 1974 Budget Act.

Listen, even the actuaries at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid have made clear that this bill will not save the kind of money that was predicted earlier...

…REPORTER:  Speaker Boehner, you said that CBO's entitled to their own opinion.  Does — how do you move forward without — when you — with legislation of your own in this Congress if you don't trust what the CBO says?  That has been sort of the, you know, non-partisan —

SPEAKER BOEHNER:  CBO can only provide a score based on the assumptions that are given to them.  And if you go back and look at the health-care bill and the assumptions that were given to them, you see all of the double-counting that went on.  You see the fact that the "doc fix" wasn't even part of the bill...

... REPORTER: Just to follow up, Speaker Boehner. If you disagree with the CBO and you'd fix it to save money, why did Republicans exempt repealing health care from the — your own requirement that any bill be offset that goes to the floor that increases anything to the deficit?  Why exempt —

SPEAKER BOEHNER:  Well, if you — if you believe that repealing "Obamacare" is going to raise the deficit, then — then you would have to have some way to offset that spending.

But I don't think anybody in this town believes that repealing "Obamacare" is going to increase the deficit.