The White House lashed out at the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office Wednesday afternoon by tweeting out a video that claims the CBO miscalculated the number of Americans who would be insured under Obamacare — and seems to suggest the CBO shouldn’t be taken seriously.
The 45-second video — which initially spelled “inaccurately” wrong twice — says that the CBO uses “faulty assumptions and bad numbers,” and cites as an example the fact that Obamacare did not ultimately reduce the uninsured population by 2016 by as much as the CBO predicted. But the White House might have an ulterior motive for digging up this incorrect estimate, beyond simply disparaging Obamacare. The CBO is a nonpartisan agency that evaluates how much Congress’s proposed bills will actually cost in practice, and how they might impact the population if enacted in their current state. And in late June, the CBO estimated that if the Senate Republican health care bill were enacted in its state at the time, 22 million fewer people would be insured by 2026, versus what would be expected under Obamacare. The White House had already endorsed that bill.
The Congressional Budget Office's math doesn't add up.— The White House (@WhiteHouse) July 12, 2017
Faulty Numbers = Faulty Results pic.twitter.com/zdf4bZ01ma
The White House, indirectly, now seems to be attempting to discredit the CBO because of that report, and possibly also because of its report that if the House bill were implemented as passed, it would leave 23 million more people uninsured than under the health care law.
The White House video asserts, in its only instance of using data points to dismiss the CBO’s findings, that in 2012 the CBO “inaccurately estimated 25 million would be covered under Obamacare” by 2016 and that “today just 10.3 million are covered in Obamacare exchanges.”
As Vox’s Sarah Kliff wrote recently, that’s been a talking point for Trump spokespeople for months: that even with Obamacare, there remain 28 million uninsured Americans. Of this population Sarah writes, “Among them are unauthorized immigrants, low-income people in states that didn’t expand Medicaid, people who decided insurance was too expensive, and some who just decided to take the risk and live without it.”
In short, the CBO wasn’t flat-out wrong in its Obamacare prediction; there are simply factors at play that the agency can’t predict. The video says that in 2016, 10.3 million people were covered specifically by the exchanges, which is less than half of the total predicted by the CBO in 2012. However, it’s worth noting, too, that the CBO actually underestimated the Medicaid expansion, as the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund found. So in the end, the CBO prediction was largely on target in terms of how people would be covered by the Affordable Care Act; it just miscalculated where that coverage would come from. Today, between the exchanges and Medicaid, roughly 20 million people have gained coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
The CBO occupies an influential role in politics, often heralded as Washington’s scorekeeper. It’s run by a congressionally appointed director — currently Keith Hall, who was picked by House Republicans in 2015 — and a staff of about 230 economists and policy analysts.
So as the Senate GOP pushes to patch together an amended health care bill that can pass the Senate on a simple majority vote, this may not be the last time we see the White House openly disparaging the accuracy — or rather the “innaccuracy” — of the CBO’s reports.