Beware of Doug

Robert Waldmann

The Congressional Budget Office is different from you and me. Their forecasts are authoratative — literally. The rules of the House and the Senate refer to CBO estimates and forecasts not some debatable underlying reality.

Hence this slightly edited dialog

Sen. Max Baucus, Chairman: [skip]
We’re not in the old situation where Sen. Grassley once said whatever CBO says is God, you’re God. My judgement, you’re not God.
Dr. Elmendorf: Senator, may I respectfully disagree …

OK so the elided text begins

Douglas Elmendorf, CBO Director: Correct

so way back then Elmendorf agreed that He was not God. At the moment it seems that He and Baucus are the only people who still hold that opinion.

In the awesome missmatch Barack Obama vs the House Republican Study Group where 90% of the brains were in Obama’s skull, one of the key takedowns was when Mike Pence claimed that Obama had promised to consider a Republican health care proposal and yet he hadn’t considered the House Republican’s health care proposal. Let’s role the tape

OBAMA: It’s not enough, if you say, for example, that we’ve offered a health care plan

You know, if I’m told, for example, that the solution to dealing with health care costs is tort reform, something that I’ve said I am willing to work with you on, but the CBO or other experts say to me, you know, “At best, this could reduce health care costs relative to where they’re growing by a couple of percentage points or save $5 billion a year, that’s what we can score it at, and it will not bend the cost curve long term or reduce premiums significantly,” then you can’t make the claim that that’s the only thing that we have to do.

So here Obama is debating Pence about whether the Republicans offered an actual plan and the judge of the debate is Doug Elmendorf, who is, technically not God (yet).

Even more bizarre is this contribution to the debate between Paul Krugman and SAOs (senior administration officials). Krugman supports hiring subsidies. They weren’t in the stimulus plan (but Obama just proposed them — good luck with the Senate on that). Krugman basically declares he has been proven right, because the CBO agrees with him.

“the idea was never taken up, and my understanding is that this was due to skepticism on the part of those SAOs. Now maybe they were right — but CBO disagrees. “

OK this is a debate between Nobel Laureate Clark Medalist Paul Krugman and (maybe among others) Clark Medalist Larry Summers and the judge is non Clark Medalist Doug Elmendorf.

I remember back before Doug was God. Through no merit of my own I was around the sanctum sanctorum of policy relevant economics the NBER. Krugman and Summers had big offices. Doug Elmendorf shared as small office with other research assistants.

This cartoon was on the door of that office.


Mike Pence is dumb as a bag of hammers, but he should have been able to understand the cartoon. I mean he only had to read 3 words.

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