About those CBO numbers…

ABOUT THOSE CBO NUMBERS…. Remember when Republicans were unhappy with the Congressional Budget Office? The CBO kept saying the Dems’ health care reform bill would save hundreds of billions of dollars, and since that proved incredibly inconvenient to Republicans, the party decided the CBO wasn’t credible enough for their tastes.

Well, forget all of that. Politico reported yesterday that the CBO now believes the Affordable Care Act “will likely cost about $115 billion more in discretionary spending over ten years than the original cost projections. The additional spending — if approved over the years by Congress — would bring the total estimated cost of the overhaul to over $1 trillion.”

Republicans were thrilled, and far-right blogs pounced. They probably should have read the report first.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Paul N. Van de Water took a closer look at the CBO report, and sets the record straight.

In March, when CBO estimated health reform’s effects on the deficit, it appropriately included all of the legislation’s impact on mandatory spending. (Mandatory spending, like Medicare and Medicaid, continues from year to year unless Congress passes new legislation to reduce it.)

CBO’s March estimate did not include the legislation’s impact on discretionary spending — the spending Congress provides each year in appropriation bills — because the legislation did not directly affect discretionary spending. Moreover, there’s no way CBO can estimate how the legislation might affect the future discretionary funding Congress will actually appropriate for any specific program or how that appropriation will affect total discretionary spending.

Instead, CBO in March provided a separate table showing the possible discretionary spending that could — contingent on future appropriations legislation — result from enactment of health reform. Yesterday’s letter from CBO simply updated those figures.

Tim Fernholz added, in response to the CBO report, “No surprise costs, just the predictable requirement that Congress budget wisely in the face of limited resources. While the attempts to score political points with this report shouldn’t surprise you, they shouldn’t convince you, either.”

And Brian Beutler summarized it this way: “Republicans want to assign to HCR costs Congress may or may not ever actualize — even though budget experts say that’s not how it should be done, and in fact isn’t how it’s usually done.”

There’s just not that much to see here. Move along.