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.
The CBO numbers were given to a small number of congressional Democrats and Republicans, but were not posted online because they're not an official CBO product. (Media outlets, while reporting widely about the "report," have declined to post it online. Here's the whole thing.) Democratic aides say they are certain that the GOP leaked it to the Associated Press in order to undercut the spending portion of the stimulus.
A Republican aide for the House Appropriations Committee denied involvement, saying that her staff did not see the CBO numbers until after the AP reported them. The Washington Post followed the AP and reported that aides to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) provided the report.
"I didn't leak it. It was sent to the Hill and considered public. If a reporter was writing on it I made sure they had access to it; it's a public document," said McConnell spokesman Don Stewart in an e-mail.
Following the press reports, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) pounced, citing the AP, Post, and other reports to make the case that the spending was wasteful. Republican aides roamed the Capitol press galleries, flogging the CBO numbers.
The press broadly picked up on it and a simple narrative developed: the stimulus bill won't stimulate the economy. The administration tried to push back against the CBO numbers, sending around a set of talking points making the case that the "new CBO spendout rate report is being taken out of context."
Nevertheless, the narrative continued to dominate. Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs was asked about the CBO numbers Friday by Fox News' Major Garrett, who told Gibbs that "the CBO has said that $219 billion of the $825 billion in the House bill cannot be spent and will not be spent until 2011 at the earliest....What is the President's appraisal of that CBO analysis, and what do you know here that the Congressional Budget Office, a neutral observer, doesn't know?"
Gibbs told the press that the report looked at "only a portion of the legislation and looked at that portion of the legislation before it began the committee process." Gibbs added that it reflected "a snapshot in time that's long past."
The White House followed up with a letter from Peter Orszag, head of the Office of Management and Budget. The CBO "analysis, however, did not assess the overall package," wrote Orszag. "Our analysis indicates that at least 75 percent of the overall package (including its tax component and the other spending provisions that were not analyzed by the Congressional Budget Office) will be spent over the next year and a half."
A new CBO score is due out next week.
Update: Tim Fernholz over at Tapped caught this also and has more details.