The Congressional Budget Office moves too slowly for Chairman Max Baucus. When CBO Director Doug Elmendorf told the committee earlier this week that it would take his office several weeks to formally assess the cost of Baucus’s most recent version of his bill – modified over the weekend and released Tuesday – the chairman said that was “unacceptable.” He told Elmendorf to “get us out of this box,” to which the CBO director said he’d do his best. (Click here for more on this.) But in the meantime, Baucus is anxious to counter the Republican talking point that his bill could increase the deficit. So a few minutes ago, his staff released its own cost estimate as “based on oral and written estimates provided by the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation.”
An e-mail from Baucus’s staff contains “preliminary estimates” that put the cost of the bill at $900 billion over 10 years – about $100 billion less than the House bill – which offset by cuts, would reduce the federal deficit by $23 billion. A previous CBO assessment, conducted before Baucus modified his bill over the weekend, said the bill would have reduced the deficit by $49 billion. Nearly all of the new spending in the modified bill – $45 billion – comes from increasing eligibility for tax credits offered to low and middle-income Americans to buy health insurance. But coupled with new savings from across several categories, the bill would still reduce the deficit, according to Baucus’s staff. Click here to see the staff’s calculations.
Republicans will most certainly not take a cost estimate from Baucus’s staff as gospel, but release of these figures shows the chairman’s impatience with CBO and his awareness that waiting for a CBO assessment could cost him precious public opinion points.