Gingrich Can't Decide Whether CBO Is "Socialist" Or Essential Truth-Teller

November 21, 2011 3:15 pm ET — Jamison Foser

Last week, Newt Gingrich called for the privatization of the Congressional Budget Office, arguing that it "actually constrains what people are allowed to think." Today, Gingrich went further, denouncing the CBO as "a reactionary socialist institution."

That wasn't the first time Gingrich called CBO "socialist." In a November 15, 1994, speech to the Heritage Foundation, Gingrich ranted:

Some tax cuts increase revenues; some tax increases kill revenues. I would cite the incredibly stupid Congressional Budget Office joint tax and Congressional -- and Office of Management and Budget joint decision in 1990 to raise the boat tax, which killed the industry, laid off the workers, ended the income tax and increased welfare and unemployment payments and was an absolute total loss to the government, and no one to this day has forced the people who had the model that was socialist to defend the fact that they totally mis-scored that tax increase. It was a job-killing, revenue-killing tax increase.

But just a few months later, when Gingrich was Speaker of the House, he claimed that "honest" budgeting required relying on CBO scoring, and repeatedly fought to ensure that negotiations with the Clinton White House used CBO numbers.

At a December 6, 1995, press conference, Gingrich said:

Let me say, first of all, that we knew the President would veto the Balanced Budget Act. We're still very proud of the fact that -- as a team -- House and Senate Republican passed the first balanced budget in a generation. And we did it working together, solving tremendous number of problems. We did it honestly, using the Congressional Budget Office which was tough. [...]

And yet, I have to say that I have mixed emotions today. On the one hand the President said yesterday he's going to send up a seven-year balanced budget. It won't yet be scored by the Congressional Budget Office. But they've agreed the Congressional Budget Office would do the scoring.

Now, just to make clear why that's important. The so-called "balanced budget" of the President over here, when scored by the Congressional Budget Office, suddenly became a $200 billion a year deficit. So, we can't rely on some phony White House score. And we want to just make clear that our first principle is that whatever the President sends up, we're going to insist on honest scoring to get honest numbers, which were the ground rules that we wrote the Balanced Budget Act by.

Later that month, Gingrich emphasized the GOP's insistence on CBO scoring. As the Los Angeles Times reported on December 20, 1995:

President Clinton and Republican leaders tentatively agreed Tuesday to a new round of top-level budget talks that rely on a method of economic forecasting that could strengthen the Republicans' hand. [...]

Each component of the plans will be evaluated using the cautious economic forecasts developed by the Congressional Budget Office, which are preferred by the Republicans. [...]

House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who met at the White House with Clinton and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.), declared that the agreement on the use of CBO numbers was a significant step.

"There is absolute agreement that everything that will be discussed starting tomorrow will have been scored by CBO," Gingrich said.  

In "Tell Newt to Shut Up!" David Maraniss and Michael Weisskopf detailed Gingrich's repeated efforts to get the White House to agree to using CBO numbers. In one passage, Maraniss and Weisskopf recount Gingrich's announcement that CBO scoring was a "key point":

Gingrich and Dole seemed optimistic. They thought the talks were back on track, that Clinton was ready to deal, and they went up to the Senate Press Gallery to tell the world about their accomplishments. Gingrich announced what he thought were the key points of movement: The president would be personally engaged; only plans that were CBO-scored ahead of time could be on the table; and they would get a deal before the end of the year. ["Tell Newt to Shut Up!", pp. 174-175]

So, Newt Gingrich thinks it's very important to use CBO numbers, which are honest, except when he thinks the CBO is a bunch of socialists who constrain what people are allowed to think. He is, remember, a very serious and brilliant thinker.

You might wonder whose budget numbers should be used if the mind-controlling socialists at CBO can't be trusted. Perhaps the Treasury Department? Nope: In January 1995, Gingrich said the Treasury Department, under Democratic and Republican presidents alike, is also a bunch of socialists:

You're saying to me that the same socialist mentality bureaucrats who have been consistently wrong were wrong again. That's possible. One of my frustrations -- and this is not partisan -- I was as frustrated under Reagan and Bush as, as we will be, I'm sure, with the current gang down at the Treasury Department, because they don't change. They're the same technicians. If we sit down and we can't solve that, then we may have a big problem, we'll have a fight on the floor, but I'll tell you flatly, I believe we can find honest estimates and not just by one or two people who for ideological reasons fudge, we can find honest estimates we can broadly agree on, and we can find a way, and we can re-shape the bill to work within those honest estimates.

Basically, Newt Gingrich thinks everyone is a socialist, except when they agree with him, at which point they're the only honest people around.