House Budget Committee ‘not considering’ firing CBO director

The House Budget Committee is not considering any plans to fire Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Director Phillip Swagel, a spokeswoman told The Hill on Monday, pushing back on a report in Mother Jones that Democratic staffers were mulling the nonpartisan budget keeper’s ouster. 

“We have not discussed and are not considering a replacement,” committee spokeswoman Alexandra Weinroth told The Hill.

Mother Jones reported Monday that Senate Democratic staffers had shared a list of potential replacements for Swagel, noting the key role the CBO plays in the Democratic strategy to pass big-ticket legislation.

Congress relies on CBO scores of legislation to project the costs, revenues and deficit impacts of legislation.

Passing bills through budget reconciliation, the process that would allow Democrats to sidestep a Senate filibuster and pass legislation with only 50 Democratic votes and a tiebreaker from Vice President Harris, relies on those scores.

Some Democrats were incensed when the CBO found that their plan to raise the minimum wage to $15 would increase the deficit by $54 billion. 

The provision was ultimately axed from the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill when the Senate parliamentarian found that the policy was “merely incidental” to the budget bill, despite the price tag. 

Without support from the House Budget Committee, let alone top Democratic leadership and rank-and-file Democrats who hold razor-thin majorities in both chambers, the plan to replace Swagel is unlikely to proceed.

The 1974 Congressional Budget Act allows any one chamber of Congress to remove a sitting CBO director through a resolution, according to the Congressional Research Service, but that process has never been invoked before.   

The Hill has reached out to leadership in both chambers for comment.

A new director would be appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate President Pro Tempore Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

But the appointment of a new CBO director has traditionally alternated between recommendations made by the House Budget Committee and the Senate Budget Committee. The Senate side formally recommended Swagel, who served as an assistant Treasury Secretary under former President George W. Bush before becoming an academic, meaning the House side would be up to recommend any potential replacement.

The Congressional Budget Office is widely seen as a fair, nonpartisan scorekeeper in Washington, though partisans have often attacked its methodology when it produced inconvenient scores. 

During the Trump administration, Republicans slammed the CBO for scores showing that plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act would result in higher government spending and a spike in the uninsured rate. 

The CBO maintains that it takes rigorous care to keep its methods nonpartisan, consulting with an array of outside experts and enforcing conflict-of-interest rules.

Tags CBO Congressional Budget Office Nancy Pelosi Patrick Leahy Phil Swagel

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