WASHINGTON -- Congressional Democrats, removed from their rhetorical shackles by the coming Republican control of the House, are accusing the GOP of resorting to "Enron-type accounting" in their efforts to push legislation in the next Congress.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the incoming ranking member of the House Budget Committee, warned on Tuesday that Republican leadership is set to implement new rules that would effectively do away with the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO is often regarded as a nonpartisan, independent scorekeeper for Congress. And by taking away its input in legislative matters, Van Hollen said, Republicans were ushering in an era of make-your-own-reality-based budgeting.
"This is a huge loophole for Enron-type accounting ... In the rule they pass tomorrow they are going to reiterate that the chair of the budget committee has the authority to come up with his own estimate of the budget impact of various pieces of legislation," Van Hollen told the Huffington Post. "And a week from now, when they get around to repealing health care reform I think you will see they will go down and say this has zero cost impact."
"It is a wholesale disregard of CBO estimates," Van Hollen added. "After all, CBO is the one referee we have around here when it comes to the budget. So again, we are watching this unfold. But it does seem that they are putting in place the pieces to allow the Chairman of the Budget committee to literally make up the numbers as they go."
The charges by the Van Hollen are fairly weighty in the wonky world of budgetary politics. But they underscore the extent to which Democrats feel that Republicans are turning the CBO and its scoring into partisan issues. Also on Tuesday, incoming Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) accused the budget office of misrepresenting the cost of the health care law for the benefit of persuading skittish Democrats to support the bill (the CBO estimated that the Affordable Care Act will reduce the deficit by more than $100 billion over ten years).
"Rep. Van Hollen was being hyperbolic? NAH - not Rep. Van Hollen!!!" Cantor's top spokesman, Brad Dayspring, told the Huffington Post in an email. "It seems that everybody in America knows that ObamaCare adds to the deficit and kills jobs except Rep. Van Hollen, Rep. Pelosi, and House Democrats who just suffered a historic election loss arguing otherwise."
The debate over both the CBO and the cost of health care reform should intensify in the week ahead, as House Republicans consider a bill to repeal the law. Van Hollen's office has formally requested, and expects to receive, an estimate from the budget office as to the cost of that repeal.