Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

February 2, 2011

MCCAIN CALLS CBO DATA 'GARBAGE'.... For years, lawmakers in both parties have considered reports from the Congressional Budget Office to be a reliable guide while shaping legislation. Republicans, in particular, just love the CBO -- considering it reliable and non-partisan -- just so long as the party likes what it's hearing.

It was rather inconvenient, then, when the Congressional Budget Office scored the GOP plan to repeal the entirety of the Affordable Care Act, and found that the Republican proposal would add $230 billion to the deficit. Making matters slightly worse, the CBO also found that the Republicans' repeal bill, if it became law, would leave 32 million Americans without health insurance by the end of the decade and make coverage more expensive for individuals.

Naturally, after seeing the report, GOP officials quickly realized they had to reconsider the merits of their bill.

No, I'm just kidding. GOP officials actually realized it was time to attack the Congressional Budget Office. That's still going on today.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Wednesday rejected the CBO's cost estimate of healthcare repeal as "garbage in, garbage out."

McCain said the Congressional Budget Office estimate that repealing the healthcare law would increase the deficit by $230 billion relies on flawed assumptions.

"So what I'm saying is, garbage in, garbage out," McCain said on the Senate floor.

McCain cited two examples of how the CBO's estimate is not properly taking into account the true costs of the healthcare law. First, he noted that the repeated increases in reimbursement levels to Medicare physicians, and the failure to repeatedly let cuts to those payments happen, are estimated to cost $208 billion over 10 years. "Nowhere is that put into the equation," McCain said.

As a substantive matter, McCain's argument, which we've heard before, is so spectacularly wrong, his rhetoric can only be called what it is: a demonstrable, blatant lie.

It's also ironic, by the way, that Republicans consider inconvenient CBO data "garbage," while simultaneously using a CBO report to make an argument about health care and jobs. (As it turns out, they're blatantly lying about that, too.)

But in the larger context, there's just something unhealthy about McCain's entire style of argument. Ezra Klein recently noted the Congressional Budget Office is a "nonpartisan agency, which calculates the official cost of legislation for Congress, speaks in the polite language of actuarial tables, refuses to reliably please either party, and is the closest thing American politics has to an umpire."

So, naturally, conservative lawmakers feel the need to try to discredit the independent voice calling balls and strikes, because that voice has the nerve to tell the truth, and there's no room for accuracy while there's a public to mislead.

Steve Benen 2:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

Bookmark and Share

Can't we all just agree that if you're a Republican, you're excused from talking about policy? It's just so... embarrassing.

Posted by: MattF on February 2, 2011 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

I think it's called "working the ref"

Posted by: jeri on February 2, 2011 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

McCain is an expert on garbage. Look who he picked to run with...

Posted by: sue on February 2, 2011 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

Working the Refs has been a standard Republican tactic for years. Since reality has a well known liberal bias the Republicans have little choice but to make certain that the people who can explain reality have little credibility. Hence the CBO becomes an incompetent organization. Climate scientists become greedy grant seeking conspirators. Judges 'legislate from the bench' etc etc.

The classic example is defining the bulk of journalism in the US as 'liberal'.

Posted by: thorin-1 on February 2, 2011 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

Easy as can be,
You agree with me,
Or I attack thee.

Subtle bastards, aren't they?

Posted by: In what respect, Charlie? on February 2, 2011 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

Why ANYONE believes the GOP has even one shred of credibility left is beyond me.

Apparently The Economist has just come out with a piece saying the GOP's 'deficit' fetish is both fraudulent and foolish.

What I do not understand is once the Republicans make some 'problem' up, like the deficit (I say 'make up' since they were the party most responsible for it), the news goes ONLY with their assessment, never with the priorities identified by the Democrats and the White House? Really disgusting.

Posted by: jjm on February 2, 2011 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

So the guy who can't even count up to the number of houses he has is questioning the CBO?

Posted by: Egan on February 2, 2011 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

..when the Congressional Budget Office scored the GOP plan

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Wednesday rejected the CBO's cost estimate of healthcare repeal as "garbage in, garbage out."

Considering the input was the GOP plan, Sen McCain is half right.

Posted by: ckelly on February 2, 2011 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

"So what I'm saying is, garbage in, garbage out," McCain said on the Senate floor.

Well "garbage" is certainly a pertinent word here but, it applies generally to the Republican party's position on health care and directly to the words coming out of McCain's mouth.

Posted by: robert on February 2, 2011 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

The GOP is desperately working to repeal the healthcare act, thereby denying coverage to millions, eliminating subsidies to seniors, eliminating consumer protections like pre-existing conditions, caps on benefits, insurance industry rescission, coverage of family to age 26, etc. etc. Someone please tell me why the Dems can't run with this football?

Posted by: ckelly on February 2, 2011 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

Presumably McCain is complaining about constraints placed on the CBO in the request to calculate the cost of repealing the health care plan. In reality he is NOT actually criticizing the CBO, but what the CBO was asked to do. For a cross-example, I point to Paul Ryan's Deficit Roadmap, which told the CBO to assume tax revenues would not fall even though taxes were slashed. As such, the CBO data on the Roadmap was "garbage in, garbage out." But the CBO isn't "garbage."

It seems a surety that McCain is confused about which restraints were put on the CBO in generating the deficit calculation. But the post doesn't make that clear.

Posted by: Alex on February 2, 2011 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

Despicable - a very good adjective regarding Republicans today, as they have no moral compass, resulting in asinine inanity, with no embarrassing effect on those Republicans afflicted by such shameful, puerile public tantrums!

Working the ref or ump is as UnAmerican as you can get, but our duly elected Republican U.S. Congresscritters don't seem to see the common sense they are desecrating while disparaging legitimate government operations, as duly elected represents.

And the vicious cycle continues! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on February 2, 2011 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

To be an Obama supporter today is to be an ostrich.

Don't you folks remember the CBO forecasts Obama used back during the stimulus bill of 2009? You know, the CBO forecast that said *without* the recovery bill there'd be 9% unemployment. You may recall that a scant 6 months later *with* the recovery bill the unemployment rate hit 9%.

You know, the same CBO that said in 2011 *without* the stimulus there'd be 7.7% unemployment?

You folks would FREAK WITH JOY right now if the unemployment rate went as low at that even for a day much less averaging that for an entire year. Link: (http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/100xx/doc10014/Chapter2.6.1.shtml#1095802 ).

You know, the same CBO forecast that said in 2010 the 10 year t-bill rate would average 3.4%. HA HA HA HA HA. (Hint: in 2010 the last time the rate was as high as 3.4% was in May)

How's that "the CBO just calls ball and strikes" thing working out for you?

You may not like McCain but if the CBO can't get the most important economic forecast in the last half century right, what else can they screw up on?

Posted by: Observer on February 2, 2011 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

What's even more pathetic is that McCain stole that (very unimaginative) response from political cartoonist Chuck Asay, who can be reliably counted on to promote every fallacious talking point the GOP can dream up.

Posted by: T-Rex on February 2, 2011 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

@Observer -- followed your link; report doesn't say what you say it says. The CBO under-projected the top of unemployment, true, but in terms of effect of ARRA in terms of relative improvements, they were right on. McCain hasn't been right about ANYTHING in about twenty years; ostrich or not I'll take the CBO over his nonsense (and yours!) any day.

Posted by: ManOutOfTime on February 2, 2011 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK


Takes "garbage" to know "garbage"

"So what I'm saying is, garbage in, garbage out," McCain said on the Senate floor.

Why is McCain rehashing his Vice Presidential vetting process?

Posted by: Winkandanod on February 2, 2011 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

"So what I'm saying is, garbage in, garbage out," McCain said on the Senate floor.

I agree with Sen. McCain. The healthcare reform repeal bill they submitted to the CBO for evaluation is indeed garbage.

Posted by: Redshift on February 2, 2011 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK


The report says *exactly* what I wrote it says.

You can't write this "the CBO under-projected the top of unemployment, true,"
and then talk about relative improvements.

In table 2-1 are the baseline estimates. Section 2.9 has the following line "CBO’s forecast incorporates the estimated impact of the spending increases and tax reductions provided by ARRA."

Table 2-3 (the link I included) has the original baseline plus a worst case and best case estimate of the stimulus bill. WORST CASE SCENARIO for 2009 with the stimulus was 8.5% unemployment. WITHOUT the stimulus the CBO said 2009 would be 9.0%. Like I wrote, within six months unemployment had blown right through all those estimates *WITH* the stimulus.

It only gets worse in 2010. CBO said worst case *without* the stimulus unempoyment would be 8.7% and with it it would be %8.1 WORST CASE. We know how that turned out.

Like I wrote, 24 months ago the CBO forecasted 7.7% unemployment for this year.

How does that look now? You can't fault anyone for saying the CBO has "garbage in, garbage out" because it seems pretty blatant that they were lowballing for Obama on this estimate, merely the most important estimate they had to do in the past 50 years.

CBO failed, you folks never held them accountable, you apparently can't read charts or news stories, and now you whine when McCain calls them out.

Posted by: Observer on February 2, 2011 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK

@Observer -- oh yeah? I certainly can write "the CBO under-projected the top of unemployment, true,"
and then talk about relative improvements. And I'd do it again -- because the report you linked to supports the statement. I say you're the one who can't read a report. How do you like them apples?

And by the way, I don't see anyone whining but you: McCain's not legitimately "calling out" the CBO, certainly not with logic or reasoning, not with even as much data as you're bringing to the conversation. He is quite simply, as always, full of it. That's what this blog post is about, by the way, McCain's continuing mendacity and ridiculousness. Not the actual merits of CBO reports.

Posted by: ManOutOfTime on February 2, 2011 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

The blog post is about many things and most of the mendacity is coming from Benen not McCain.

Let's agree: McCain is both mendacious and ridiculous. That doesn't make him wrong.

But let's look at the blog post: if that's all there was too it, the last two paragraphs needn't have been written.

But in the partisan red team/blue team dynamic, if McCain critizes something, the blue team must defend it, so Benen pulls out Ezra Klein, "independent voice" and "balls and strikes".

But the CBO under Peter Orszag wasn't very good at all, and seemed highly partisan. The biggest case being the bogus economic forecast of March 2009 that gave cover to Obama to lowball the stimulus numbers to fit with what he wanted.

You may recall that debate: one side a Nobel prize winning economist who had been right about pretty well everything in the past 5 years and on the other the Wall St soaked Obama team of Orszag, Summers, Geithner, & Rahm.

Krugman called out the Obama numbers and Benen and all you other partisans went "la le la, la le la" and stuck his fingers in his years. The CBO gave a ridiculous baseline forecast (which you concur) and Obama sold it. Now you want to say the CBO was good on the relatives but the case did not turn on the relative usefulness of the stimulus; the case turned on how much needed to be done to keep unemployment low and the CBO sandbagged the estimates.

Now 24 months later, Benen (and apparently you) want to pretend that the Repubs didn't notice this. Well they did.

If you *actually* cared about unemployment then you would be pissed off. The stimulus needed to be twice as large (as Krugman said, and painstakingly detailed in numbers, at the time). This would have averted a whole bunch of pain for the whole country. the difference between 9.5% unemployment and 7% is huge in the human terms.

This was only the one of the earliest of the many things Obama supporters need to ignore or whitewash in order to believe.

Posted by: Observer on February 2, 2011 at 5:55 PM | PERMALINK

At this point I don't think McCain is capable of knowing when he's lying.

Posted by: max on February 2, 2011 at 7:03 PM | PERMALINK

Observer, speaking for the rest of the ostriches, I would like to congratulate you for going through ALL the information regarding the stimulus and its' subsequent effects on the economy deliberated on by Mr. Orszag and the CBO in 2009.
As the projections were based on assumptions, could you please tell me what the incorrect assumptions were? ALL of them.
Did those assumptions include the continuing mortgage crisis? The current rate of increases in oil prices? The weather? Is it possible that the stimulus failed to attain its' goals, not only because of factors included and provided for, in the projections, but also because of factors NOT included or rejected? If the latter, of course, we need to know why such data was rejected.
See you around the sand box...

Posted by: Doug on February 2, 2011 at 8:01 PM | PERMALINK

@Observer - yes, McCain is both mendacious and ridiculous -- AND he IS ALSO wrong, as are you. Yes, Krugman argued for something like double the stimulus that ARRA wound up being, and he was probably "right" that would have been "better" -- but the economy HAS recovered and unemployment HAS gotten better and to @Doug's point you're just sort of making a big fuss over a couple of paragraphs from one document versus reams and REAMS of data and months of discussion and debate.

You can have your trolly fun and "HA HA" and "la de da" as much as you want at me and other commenters, it's a free country. But calling Steve Benen a liar is absurd on its face; he is one of the best and most thoughtful bloggers left or right.

Posted by: ManOutOfTime on February 2, 2011 at 9:13 PM | PERMALINK

Republican legislators are all dicks.

Posted by: David Bailey on February 3, 2011 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

@ Observer: I think you have the politics totally wrong. The problem Obama faced in passing his stimulus package wasn't that people thought it was too small; it was that certain conservative Democrats in the Senate thought it was too large, forcing him to water down the plan to get it through Congress. A more pessimistic economic forecast would have made it easier, not harder, to win the support of those Democrats. A more pessimistic forecast would also have benefited the President down the line, making it harder for Republicans to claim that the stimulus hadn't accomplished anything.

Your counter to this, if I understand you correctly, is that a more pessimistic forecast would have exposed the President to more criticism from the left, but I haven't seen any sign that Obama was seriously concerned about criticism from the left in 2009. It was taken as a given by the Washington establishment, and I presume by the President, that liberal Democrats were going to vote for the stimulus no matter what.

Krugman's disagreed with Obama about the size of the stimulus, but I don't recall him taking issue with the CBO numbers. To construct an economic forecast, what you would like to do is to look at where the economy is now and project forward. It take a long time to collect economic data, so the government publishes preliminary numbers and revises them later, sometimes taking more than a year to produce the final, official numbers. If the preliminary numbers are too far off, then forecasts based on them will also be off. To show that the inaccuracy of the baseline CBO forecast was due to something other than the inaccuracy of the available data, you would have to show that was was outside the mainstream of economic forecasts.

Posted by: Kenneth Almquist on February 3, 2011 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK



Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM

buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly