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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Troubling Meeting

(H/T to Hot Air) It was first revealed by President Obama in an interview with Meredith Viera. He mentioned, in passing, that he recently met with Congressional Budget Office director Doug Elmendorf.

The same story was picked up by Megyn Kendall of Fox News. Here's how the president characterized the meeting.
Adding to the suspicions about the bill are reports of a meeting held at the White House with a group that included Congressional Budget Office Director Dougles Elmendorf, who upset Democratic supporters of the plan by putting the $1 trillion-plus price tag on it, sending shock waves through Washington and beyond.

It's very unusual for the CBO director, who is appointed by the majority party to serve as the official numbers cruncher, to go to the White House, and Elmendorf's visit raised questions about whether he was being pressured to revise his dire analysis.

A White House spokesman said that Elmendorf was invited to be one of the participants at the meeting because he, like the president, is serious about bringing down costs.

"If someone thinks it's inappropriate for the president to meet with the CBO director, that's unfortunate," White House spokesman Reid Cherlin told FOX News.
Now, this could have been an innocent meeting in which the president was trying to gather information about ways in which his health care proposal could cost less and bring costs down. In fact, that's essentially how the Director himself described the meeting.
This morning President Obama said that he had met with the Congressional Budget Office regarding cost savings in health reform legislation. A number of people have asked me what happened, so here’s the story:
I was invited to the White House to meet with the President, his key budget and health advisers, and some outside experts. The President asked me and the outside experts for our views about achieving cost savings in health reform. I presented CBO’s assessment of the challenges of reducing federal health outlays and improving the long-term budget outlook while simultaneously expanding health insurance coverage–just as we had explained these challenges in a letter to Senator Conrad and Senator Gregg last month. I also described CBO’s view of the effects of the health legislation we have seen so far, as I did last Thursday in a hearing at the Senate Budget Committee and a mark-up at the House Ways and Means Committee. In addition, I discussed various policy options that could produce budgetary savings in the long run, drawing on CBO’s Budget Options for Health Care released in December, our letter to Senators Conrad and Gregg last month, and my comments last Thursday. Other participants in the meeting expressed their own views on these various topics.
People have asked whether it was exciting to meet the President and be in the Oval Office: Yes, and my kids will be jealous when they get back from summer camp and hear about it. Of course, the setting of the conversation and the nature of the participants do not affect CBO’s analysis of health reform legislation. We will continue to work with Members of Congress and their staffs, on both sides of the aisle, to provide cost estimates and other information as health reform legislation is considered.
So, everything appears above board. Still, this leads to all sorts of troubling questions. Unfortunately, this was a closed door meeting and so if it was used as some sort of meeting of intimadation we'll never know unless Elmendorf blows the whistle. It's important to understand that the CBO is an arm of Congress not the president. More than that, it's most important that the CBO be as independent and objective as possible. Such meetings, create the appearance of impropriety even if nothing untoward occurred.
Several former Bush administration officials, including Dana Perino, have said in the last couple days that no one in the administration ever met with the CBO director. In the meantime, Bob Beckel, Democratic operative, said that when he worked in the White House he met with CBO staffers regularly. Something is amiss. No one can find another example of a President ever inviting the CBO director to a private meeting in the White House. That is the real problem. Such a high level contact in such a setting is totally inappropriate. If all the president wanted was some guidance on ways to improve health care there were many ways to get that from the CBO. He invited its director to a private meeting in the White House. That raises the spector that this meeting was about a lot more.

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