"Dynamic'' deceptions.


WASHINGTON -- The dust-up over "dynamic scoring'' is a small indicator of the routine irrelevancy of Washington's budget debate. Instead of facing the real issues -- how much we should spend, on what, who should be taxed and how much -- Republicans and Democrats find it easier to argue over technical questions that, in the end, won't much affect the budget.

Only policy wonks can love the "dynamic scoring'' controversy. It refers to how Congress estimates the impact of spending and tax proposals on the federal budget. The Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation make these estimates. They examine how individuals and businesses will respond to proposed legislation and translate that into changes in the deficit, outlays or taxes. But in their estimates, the CBO and the JCT assume that the economy's overall growth remains the same.

That's crazy, say many Republicans: Government policies clearly affect, for good and ill, the economy's performance. So "dynamic scoring'' would compel the CBO and the JCT to alter their estimating procedures. They'd have to predict how legislative proposals would affect economic growth, employment, inflation and other economic variables. These shifts would then be translated into new estimates of the proposals' budgetary costs. If the economy were improved, the budget costs would drop, and vice versa.

Sounds straightforward. It isn't.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives has just required "dynamic scoring.'' It provides "a more ... honest analysis,'' House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price said in a statement. Wrong, countered Shaun Donovan, head of the White House Office of Management and Budget. Dynamic scoring risks "injecting bias'' into budget estimates, he said in a blog post.

It's enlightened budgeting versus cooking the books. Existing procedures, Republicans argue, are skewed against pro-growth policies. Democrats fear Republicans will push tax cuts based on over-optimistic projections of economic growth.

What neither says is that it probably won't make much difference. In theory, it's hard to disagree with Republicans. We need budget estimates based on the best available...

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