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S. 278: CBO Show Your Work Act

Should one of Congress’s most important offices be subject to more public disclosure?


Since 1975, the Congressional Budget Office has served as the nonpartisan research and analysis body for the legislative branch.

Whenever a bill is introduced, from the Republican tax cuts to Democrats’ health care plans, the CBO determines how much it’s likely to cost and its impact on deficits.

But while the results of their work are always public, their methodologies are not always so.

What the bill does

The CBO Show Your Work Act would require the CBO to publicly release on its website “each fiscal model, policy model, and data preparation routine… in estimating the costs and other fiscal, social, or economic effects of legislation.”

It was introduced on January 30 as bill number S. 278 by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT).

What supporters say

Supporters argue the bill provides a necessary level of transparency which is currently lacking at the office.

“Congress does need a scorekeeper to provide budgetary estimates for the policy changes it considers,” Sen. Lee said in a press release. “But at a bare minimum, that scorekeeper should be forced to show how its models work. Currently the CBO doesn’t have to do that.”

“This bill would require the CBO to publish its data, models, and all details of computation used in its cost analysis and scoring,” Sen. Lee continued. “CBO would keep its role as official scorekeeper of congressional budget proposals — but now the American people and the economic community would be able to see what’s going on in all those spreadsheets and algorithms.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that, while the bill’s motives sound pure, it’s actually a Republican partisan ploy to attack one of the main institutions often criticizing its policies.

Republicans were upset that the CBO projected the party’s tax cuts last Congress would create record deficits. The GOP had often portrayed the tax cuts as “paying for themselves” under the logic that the decreased revenue would be cancelled out — or more than cancelled out — by the level of increased economic growth. The CBO disagreed.

Yet so far, the CBO appears to have been correct. The deficit increased almost 17% to $779 billion the year after the tax cut took effect.

Odds of passage

The bill has currently attracted 18 Senate cosponsors, all Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in the Senate Budget Committee.

previous version introduced by Sen. Lee in 2017 attracted a slightly larger 22 Senate cosponsors, also all Republicans. It never received a committee vote.

Even if the current version passes the Republican-controlled Senate, it would face an uphill battle in the Democratic-controlled House.

Last updated Feb 6, 2019. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jan 30, 2019.

CBO Show Your Work Act

This bill requires the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to make available to Congress and the public each fiscal model, policy model, and data preparation routine that the CBO uses to estimate the costs and other fiscal, social, or economic effects of legislation.

For each estimate of the costs and other fiscal effects of legislation, the CBO must also disclose, in a manner sufficient to permit replication by individuals not employed by the CBO, the data, programs, models, assumptions, and other details of the computations used to prepare the estimate.

For data that may not be disclosed, the CBO must make available to Congress and the public

a complete list of all data variables for the data; descriptive statistics for all data variables for the data, to the extent that the descriptive statistics do not violate the rule against disclosure; a reference to the statute requiring that the data not be disclosed; and contact information for the individual or entity who has unrestricted access to the data.