Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) has demanded a more straightforward score from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) on Joe Biden’s Build Back Better spending bill before the Senate digs into considering it. He has also asked the Joint Committee on Taxation to focus on a score on the legislation that considers all of its provisions permanent.
He wrote to the CBO and the joint Committee expressing concern that the first score provided by the CBO is “artificially low” because of “timing gimmicks.” He specifically questioned the methods used in the score that placed “arbitrary sunsets and expirations” on several of the more extensive spending programs included in the bill. Cornyn said that the inclusion of the expiration dates hides the actual cost of the bill.
Cornyn said that he did not think the initial scoring was biased but stressed that the rules used in the scoring allowed Democrats to take advantage of systemic biases built into the rules. The independent CBO has indeed been used by members of both sides of the aisle to answer questions about the impact of budgetary bills for many years.
Cornyn’s concerns are legitimate and address issues that can obscure the actual cost of the bill. The initial CBO score showed an increase in the federal spending deficit of $160 billion over the first ten years of the bill’s programs. However, that estimate takes the claims of the Democrats who drafted the bill at face value.
While that complied with the rules as written, it produced an unreliable result. There is every reason to believe that Democrats do not seriously mean to allow the new spending programs they propose to expire when the arbitrary deadlines they have set are reached. If they have the power to extend the plan when the time comes, there is no serious doubt that they will.
A Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget report indicates that when the programs included in the bill are considered permanent federal programs, the bill’s overall cost over ten years would come in at $4.9 trillion, more than double the estimated $2.4 trillion.
Cornyn is, of course, aware that the CBO score would show similar results if the assumption of permanency is included. Even though a revised score is not likely to affect the vote of almost all Democrats, it will bring transparency to the process and might impact the approach of moderate Democrats, most notably Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).