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Conrad defends CBO

From NBC's Michelle Perry
The chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) says it's not up to the Congressional Budget Office to support the health-care reform proposals put forth by his fellow Democrats in Congress. Conrad defended the CBO's less-than-favorable assessment of the current proposals, telling Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC today, "We can all question CBO scoring. There are things I don't agree with....but at the end of the day we have got to have an objective scorekeeper."

Video: With only three weeks until the Senate breaks for August recess, will Congress be able to merge the five health care plans currently circling on the Hill into a bill the president will sign? Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., discusses.

It was Conrad's question to CBO chief Doug Elmendorf that started the latest round of opposition to Obama's health-care reform, when he appeared before the Budget Committee last week.

The exchange was as follows:

CONRAD: Everyone has said that bending cost curve over time is critically important and one of key goals of effort...from what you've seen...do you see a successful effort being mounted to bend long term cost curve?

ELMENDORF: No, Mr. chairman

CONRAD:  So the cost curve in your judgment is being bent, but it is being bent the wrong way. Is that correct?

ELMENDORF: The way I would put it is that the curve is being raised, so there is a justifiable focus on growth rates because, of course, it is the compounding of growth rates faster than the economy that leads to these unsustainable paths. 

When asked about the White House argument that Elmendorf wasn't taking into account preventative health measures such as wellness and technology, Conrad said, "It may be that the CBO isn't giving us the kind of scores we would like to see but at the end of the day, they're the ones we have to rely on to keep us on track."

And of the president's August deadline for putting out a proposal, Conrad, a member of the Finance Committee charged with getting it done said, "All the stars would have to be in alignment to get it done in the next three weeks, but what's critically important here is that we do bend the cost curve right and virtually every economist that has come before us has said reducing the tax subsidy for healthcare which is 2.4 trillion over the next ten years should be part of it."