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Yarmuth Opening Statement at CBO Oversight Hearing

Jan 30, 2018

Washington, D.C. – Kentucky Congressman John Yarmuth, Ranking Member of the House Budget Committee, gave the following opening statement at today’s hearing on CBO oversight. Video and his remarks as prepared for delivery are below:

Director Hall, thank you for your testimony, and for your service. 
Congress created CBO to give us an independent and reliable source of budgetary information and expertise.  For more than 40 years, CBO has fulfilled its mission, providing impartial, high-quality analysis to inform our decision-making and improve our ability to protect the power of the purse.  While everyone here is aware that Director Hall was appointed by Congressional Republicans, expectations have always been that the CBO Director will carry out his or her responsibilities without allegiance or deference to any political ideology or party. The same is true of the staff who are hired based on their ability and qualifications, NOT political affiliation. As a result, CBO produces its best analysis regardless of any desired outcome for an Administration, the majority in Congress, or the Congressional minority. 
Despite that commitment to objectivity however, CBO has been the target of criticism. And I’m sure we will hear some of that today.
Director Hall, I do not envy you.  You have, what I would argue, is one of the most thankless jobs in Washington--and that is to be our objective referee.  And in an arena where passions run deep, your calls will often be embraced by one side, while questioned by the other. 
But there has been a dramatic shift recently in the treatment of CBO – and as members of this Committee this should be deeply troubling to all of us. Questioning and fair criticism of CBO have morphed into more caustic attacks, many that have crossed the line. And much of this friction seems to center on analysis of my Republican colleagues’ efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Look, I get it. I would not want to defend increasing the number of uninsured Americans by 20 million, or causing premiums to skyrocket -- particularly when you have no viable plan for replacement.
But I’m not sure what you thought CBO’s analysis would show.  The Affordable Care Act expanded coverage through three related strategies:  requiring insurance companies to make meaningful coverage available to all, requiring individuals to get covered, and subsidizing premiums to make coverage affordable.  If you end the individual mandate, people will go without coverage. If you end subsidies that help families afford insurance, people lose coverage. If you take away consumer protections and once again allow insurers to play games, premiums will increase for everyone who is not in perfect health, and people lose coverage.
There is no way around the fact that repealing the Affordable Care Act will result in millions of American families losing health coverage, and there is no way to defend that to the American people. So with nowhere to turn, many of my Republican colleagues unfairly went after the CBO, inappropriately impugning the integrity of the agency and its staff.
I want to be clear, I think Congress has every right – even a duty – to review CBO’s work and ask questions. And CBO needs to be forthcoming in providing explanations. Democrats have certainly raised questions about assumptions or interpretations.  But what we haven’t done is called into question the integrity of the institution or individual staff members.
It is all too easy these days to take refuge in information that tells us only what we want to hear, but that does not lead to sound policy.  CBO does not exist to give us the information that we want to hear.  Its job is to give us the information needed to make informed, responsible decisions.  It is one of the few institutions in Washington that serves that role. Attacks on the CBO aren’t just attacks on Director Hall and his staff—they are attacks on our integrity as a deliberative body. They reduce trust in government, and undermine the standards on which a functioning democracy depends.
Today, I hope to hear from you, Dr. Hall, about how you ensure your work is objective and the steps you’ve taken to increase transparency at CBO.  I’d like to learn more about your expert staff, technical capabilities, and about any need for additional funding or tools. 
You’ll likely hear from us disagreements with some of your methodologies.  I think some here will challenge you on your processes and will encourage you to look at alternative methods.  These are all fair questions and adhere to our committee’s commitment to oversight. But I would remind my colleagues that questioning the character or integrity of Dr. Hall or CBO staff has no place in this Committee or anywhere in Congress.
Thank you again, Dr. Hall for your leadership at CBO and for testifying today.