About that CBO report…

ABOUT THAT CBO REPORT…. This week, congressional Republicans seized on a new report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) showing the limited short-term stimulative effects of the Democrats’ proposed rescue package. It’s also led to widespread media coverage undermining the White House’s arguments about the benefits of a stimulus plan.

There is, however, a problem. The CBO report, as it’s been described, doesn’t exist.

Reports of a recent study by the Congressional Budget Office, showing that the vast majority of the money in the stimulus package won’t be spent until after 2010, have Democrats on the defensive and the GOP calling for a pullback in wasteful spending.

Funny thing is, there is no such report.

“We did not issue any report, any analysis or any study,” a CBO aide told the Huffington Post.

Rather, the nonpartisan CBO ran a small portion of an earlier version of the stimulus plan through a computer program that uses a standard formula to determine a score — how quickly money will be spent. The score only dealt with the part of the stimulus headed for the Appropriations Committee and left out the parts bound for the Ways and Means or Energy and Commerce Committee.

Because it dealt with just a part of the stimulus, it estimated the spending rate for only about $300 billion of the $825 billion plan. Significant changes have been made to the part of the bill the CBO looked at.

Oops.

It appears that the preliminary, incomplete numbers put together by the CBO were distributed to a small handful of lawmakers in both parties earlier in the week. Someone (Republican congressional offices) then passed the misleading data onto the AP, which predictably ran with the incomplete numbers, telling the public that it “will take years before an infrastructure spending program proposed by President-elect Barack Obama will boost the economy.”

Other major media outlets quickly followed, and voila, Republicans had a talking point: “Boehner and other Republican aides roamed the Capitol press galleries, flogging the CBO numbers.”

Obviously, congressional Republicans were less concerned about reality than undermining an economic rescue package. But as DDay noted, let’s not brush past media culpability: “It’s pretty clear that the media has no ability to or interest in understanding this stuff, because then they wouldn’t have their precious ‘conflict.’ So they regurgitate whatever some GOP staffer feeds them, just to spice things up.”

OMB Director Peter Orszag, who used to head the CBO, has already responded to the bogus reports and talking points. Republicans and reporters might want to check it out.

Update: It looks like the estimable Tim Fernholz was ahead of the curve on this one, and recognized the flaw in the Republicans’ CBO talking point early on.