Rather than produce stark hard-number projections behind a heavy veil, the CBO and JCT could act more as developers and stewards of an open public model, available online to anyone with sufficient technical prowess to use it. The two agencies, with outside help, would create and maintain the model, and would decide on a set of official economic assumptions and policy expectations to be used in modeling for formal budget-process purposes. Anyone could “score” any policy proposal using those official assumptions and could also use the model with other assumptions to project a proposal’s consequences under alternative circumstances.
I do not think that any fix of the Congressional Budget Office or Joint Committee on Taxation gets at the problem.
Alan Blinder once pointed out what he called Murphy’s Law of economic policy. That is when economists agree on something and are confident about it, nobody listens. But when economists are engaged in speculation and biased argument, they get attention.
When it comes to “scoring” health bills for their effect on the proportion of the population with health insurance, the CBO is engaged in speculation, and Levin points out a form of bias.
It is by this point basically a quirk of the CBO model that it judges the mandate to be exceedingly effective — far more effective than the evidence of the past few years would suggest.
If your model tells you that a lot of people purchased health insurance because of the mandate, then it will predict that a lot of people will decline health insurance without it. And, of course, the press will report this as people “losing” their health insurance.
On the other hand, when the CBO puts out its reasonable forecasts that entitlement spending is not sustainable, pundits tell us not to take those seriously. But as far as I can tell, those forecasts are still on track.