(Corrects first name of CBO director Keith Hall)
By David Lawder
WASHINGTON, March 12 Aides to U.S. President
Donald Trump on Sunday attacked the credibility of the
nonpartisan agency that will analyze the costs of a replacement
for Obamacare, as the White House sought to quell opposition
from many Republicans.
The Congressional Budget Office, which provides official
estimates of the budget impact of proposed legislation, is
expected to issue a report as early as Monday that will assess
the healthcare legislation put forth by Republican House of
The report could influence sentiment towards a bill that is
already under fire from both Democrats and many conservative
Republicans, especially if it suggests the legislation would
reduce the number of Americans with health coverage or that it
would worsen U.S. budget deficits.
In a series of television interviews, White House budget
director Mick Mulvaney and top White House economic adviser
Gary Cohn said that the CBO is focusing on the wrong metrics
with the estimates it will provide on the number of people who
are insured. Cohn and Mulvaney said CBO should instead should
analyze whether patients can actually afford to go to a doctor.
"I love the folks at the CBO, they work really hard, they
do, but sometimes we ask them to do stuff they're not capable of
doing, and estimating the impact of a bill of this size probably
isn't the - isn't the best use of their time," Mulvaney told
ABC's "This Week" program.
Speaking on Fox News, Gary Cohn, director of the White House
National Economic Council, said: "We will see what the score is,
in fact in the past, the CBO score has really been meaningless."
"They've said that many more people will be insured than are
actually insured. But when we get the CBO score we'll deal with
that," Cohn said.
The Trump administration's criticisms of the CBO are
unusual. Prior administrations, both Republican and Democratic,
have steered clear of attacking the credibility of the agency,
which many lawmakers regard as a neutral arbiter. The CBO's
current director, Keith Hall, was appointed by Republicans in
Republicans have long opposed Obamacare, formally called the
Affordable Care Act, on the grounds it was government overreach
and led to higher insurance premiums. The 2010 law, Democratic
President Barack Obama’s signature legislation, provided 20
million previously uninsured Americans with health coverage.
The credit rating agency Standard & Poor's has estimated 6
million to 10 million people could lose health insurance
coverage under the Republican plan.
Senator Bernie Sanders, who ran for president in 2016 as a
Democrat, said it was "cowardly" for Republicans to proceed with
a healthcare bill without CBO estimates, telling CBS' Face the
Nation show: "This is a disgrace."
In recent weeks, Trump administration officials and
Republican lawmakers have criticized what they said were overly
optimistic estimates from the CBO of the number of Americans who
would sign up for health insurance on government-run exchanges.
CBO estimated in 2013 that 22 million people would be
purchasing insurance through the exchanges in 2016. But only
10.4 million were signed up for these plans by the middle of
last year, according to Department of Health and Human Services
The House Republican legislation would scrap tax penalties
for Americans without health insurance, roll back an expansion
of Medicaid insurance for the poor, and replace Obamacare's
income-based subsidies with a system of fixed tax credits to
help people buy private insurance on the open market.
Last week, ratings agency Standard and Poor's estimated that
6 million to 10 million people could lose coverage if the
Republican plan passes.
Cohn also disputed the notion that millions of people on
Medicaid, the government health care system for the poor, would
become uninsured as Obamacare's expansion of the program is
rolled back over a period of years. He said that many of these
people would be transitioned into new private and
employer-sponsored plans that would become more affordable under
the Republican plan.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, the Republican plan's top backer in
Congress, said he is "certain" that the CBO will show a
reduction in the number of Americans with coverage.
"You know why? Because this isn't a government mandate,"
Ryan told NBC's Meet the Press.
But conservative Republicans said they could not support the
plan without significant changes. Republican Representative Jim
Jordan of Ohio, a founder of the conservative House Freedom
Caucus, said it does not go far enough to meet Republicans'
promise to kill Obamacare.
"We told them we were going to replace it with something
that would bring down the cost of insurance. That's what we told
them," Jordan told Fox News Sunday. "This legislation that the
speaker's brought forward doesn't do that."
Cohn and Mulvaney also said that the Trump administration
was open to changes in the bill.
Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas said the plan as
written would not pass the Senate and could put the Republican
House majority at risk.
"I believe it would have adverse consequences for millions
of Americans and it wouldn't deliver on our promises to reduce
the cost of health insurance for Americans," Cotton said.
(Reporting by David Lawder; additional reporting by Doina
Chiacu; Editing by Caren Bohan and Grant McCool)