Team Trump, GOP downplay looming CBO report, question group’s competence, earlier findings

Trump administration officials and other key Washington Republicans on Sunday downplayed the impact of the upcoming Congressional Budget Office report on the GOP’s ObamaCare replacement plan, suggesting the nonpartisan group has miscalculated before on such complex legislation.

“The director of the CBO is not Moses,” Arkansas GOP Sen. Tom Cotton told ABC’s “This Week.” “He doesn't come down from the mountaintops with stone tablets. … They can make mistakes. But they do provide an important amount of information and analysis that allows senators and congressmen to make informed choices. … We need to take it seriously. We don't have to accept everything and every conclusion at face value.”

Cotton, one of President Trump’s most reliable Capitol Hill allies, was among the first on Sunday to minimize expectations about the nonpartisan group’s report, which could be released as early as Monday.

Democrats have already tried play up the importance of the report, which is expected to include estimates on cost and the number of likely enrollees for the replacement plan, known as the American Health Care Act and put forth by leaders of the GOP-run House.

“The American people and (congressional) members have a right to know the full impact of this legislation before any vote in committee or by the whole House,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wrote in a letter last week to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

Ryan told CBS' "Face The Nation" Sunday that he fully expects the CBO analysis to find that fewer people will be covered under the GOP plan because it eliminates the government requirement to be insured.

Two House committees have already voted in favor of the bill, with leaders hoping to pass the legislation in the full House during the week of March 20, sending the measure to the Senate where it would need support from 51 of 52 Senate Republicans to reach Trump’s desk for signature.

Former President Obama’s signature health care law has insured millions more Americans since its 2010 inception but has also struggled under rising premium costs and dwindling policy options for customers.

“In the past, the CBO score has really been meaningless. They have said that many more people will be insured than are actually insured,” White House Chief Economic Adviser Gary Cohn told “Fox News Sunday,” in an apparent reference to ObamaCare.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the CBO estimated that more than 20 million people would have coverage 10 years after the start of ObamaCare.

"It's about half of that right now," he said. "So the CBO has been very adept in not providing appropriate coverage statistics.”

(Most reports show a maximum of 16 million people enrolled in 2017.)

Price also argued the GOP plan will cover more Americans, not tens of millions less, as one earlier report concluded.

“I love the folks at the CBO,” Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, told ABC. “They work really hard. But sometimes we ask them to do stuff they're not capable of doing. And estimating the impact of a bill of this size probably isn't the best use of their time.”

He also challenged early predictions that the CBO report will show increasing costs, arguing the Republican-controlled Congress could not replace ObamaCare under the swift parliamentary process known as “reconciliation” unless the new plan reduces the federal debt and saves money.

He also argued that if the CBO had made the correct projections on ObamaCare, then the plan would now have 8 million more enrollees.

The GOP legislation would use tax credits to help consumers buy health coverage, expand health savings accounts, phase out an expansion of Medicaid and cap that program for the future, end some requirements for health plans under Obama's law and scrap a number of taxes.

During the presidential campaign and as recently as January, Trump repeatedly stressed his support for universal health coverage, saying his plan to replace the Affordable Care Act would provide "insurance for everybody."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.