published Thursday, June 18th, 2009

'Creative' or just dishonest?

It's almost impossible to believe, but a Democrat U.S. senator openly demanded that the independent, nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office base its estimates of the cost of health care reform on what will make those reforms likely to pass, not on an objective analysis.

Read this stunning passage about Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and CBO chief Douglas Elmendorf in a recent article in The Washington Post: "Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a key figure in the health debate, has publicly lectured Elmendorf, saying he has a moral duty to be 'creative' and deliver the favorable budget estimates 'we have to have' to win broad support."

It sounds as if he's asking Mr. Elmendorf to wrap his agency's findings around a certain political outcome. But the CBO is not a branch of the Democratic Party. It is a nonpartisan agency whose job is to give unbiased estimates of how much legislation will cost if passed. Congress needs those unprejudiced estimates to have any hope of making good decisions about getting the explosive costs of medical care under control.

It would not be "creative," much less moral, for the CBO to abandon objectivity in estimating the cost of health care reform or anything else. It would be sickeningly dishonest. We can only hope Mr. Elmendorf was sincere when he vowed that the CBO will not "adjust our views to make people happy" and said estimates will be offered "without regard to the political consequences."

There should be outrage that a prominent member of Congress seems comfortable suggesting the CBO surrender its proper role to push partisan politics. Democrats' reform plans are incredibly expensive. If our nation is to go unwisely down that path, we ought at least to have the most accurate cost estimates possible.

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