What is the Congressional Budget Office?

Explainers | March 6, 2017

What is the Congressional Budget Office, and how does it help inform the public on the costs and impacts of federal legislation? Read our this for the answer.

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The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is Congress’s referee. The CBO provides independent cost analyses of legislation being considered by Congress—it basically puts a price tag on bills. And, on Capitol Hill, that price tag is often called a CBO “score.”

The CBO is nonpartisan—meaning it is independent and not just a political tool for the party in power. For forty years, the CBO has informed Congressional activities that will either reduce or increase government spending, issuing dozens of widely respected reports a year. Regardless of who appoints the director (the current CBO director, Keith Hall, is a conservative economist appointed by Republican leaders), the CBO remains a respected independent source of information for lawmakers from both parties and the public.

Why is the CBO Important?

Until we, as citizens, see the CBO estimate of a bill, we only have politicians’ talking points to go by to judge a bill’s impact. It takes the light of the CBO’s “score” to truly understand what a bill means for our families and communities—and our wallets.

What is a CBO Score?

A CBO “score” is just the price tag of a bill as determined by the CBO. For every major bill, the CBO issues a report showing how a piece of legislation would change spending by the federal government as compared to current law, typically over a ten year period. This estimate is known informally as a “score.”

For example, the last time Republicans passed an Obamacare repeal bill, the CBO score found that it would cut federal spending on health care assistance resulting in millions of Americans losing their health insurance.

When does the CBO release scores?

Typically, the CBO will release its score before a vote is taken on a bill so that Members of Congress and their constituents can understand its impact. However, this time House Republicans are trying to pass their Obamacare repeal bill through committee without a score. They want to rush their repeal bill through before we know its true costs and how it will impact millions of people who have health insurance because of Obamacare.

Can CBO scores help stop the Trump Agenda?

Ask your Members of Congress to demand that bills get a CBO score before they have to vote on them. If the score shows a bill would hurt the public, like cutting people off of their health insurance or wasting taxpayer dollars on tax cuts for the rich, demand they vote against it. When politicians make big, false claims about their policies, we must turn to independent analysts, like the CBO, to demonstrate the truth.