Congressional Republicans — Speaker of the House Paul Ryan in particular — have been vociferously criticized for passing the American Health Care Act this Thursday before the final version of the bill was scored by the Congressional Budget Office to determine its likely effects.
The biggest change between previous versions of Trumpcare and the bill that squeaked through the House is that the new AHCA allows states to waive parts of Obamacare’s rules about community-rating. This means that people with preexisting health conditions — essentially anyone who hasn’t been in perfect health their entire lives — who live in states that do this would be placed in high risk pools and likely charged far, far more for insurance, so much that it could be totally unaffordable.
White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders explained on Thursday why the House was not waiting for a CBO score before voting. It is, she said, “impossible to score a lot of the things that would go into this because it has so many different factors that you simply can’t predict what governors may do in their states.”
Yet on Saturday, Ryan’s press secretary AshLee Strong took to twitter to claim that in fact the AHCA had been scored by the CBO:
While we're setting the record straight: AHCA was posted online a month ago, went through 4 committees, & has been scored by CBO -- twice.— AshLee Strong (@AshLeeStrong) May 6, 2017
This is true, in the sense that previous versions of the bill were scored by the CBO. It’s also consciously deceptive, in the sense that the version that passed has not been scored by the CBO.
To Strong’s credit, she did reply to emails asking about her tweets, although in ways that were non-responsive.
First, she refused to simply acknowledge that the version of the AHCA that passed was not scored by the CBO. Instead, she repeatedly stated that “the underlying bill has been scored twice already and only narrow changes have been made since the last score.”
In other words, Strong is claiming that the difference between previous versions of the AHCA and the one that passed are insignificant — yet were somehow important enough to make the difference between the bill passing and not passing. Douglas Elmendorf, who ran the CBO from 2009-15 during the Obama administration, recently told Politico that “I don’t see how you can argue that combination of things at the same time with a straight face.”
Moreover, it’s unlikely that Americans with significant pre-existing health conditions (like myself) find the possibility of being priced out of the insurance market to be a “narrow change.”
Strong also refused repeated requests to comment on Sanders’s statement that the version of the AHCA that passed was “impossible to score.”
However, she did say that, “off the record, the point is that people are incorrectly stating ‘there’s no score.’ That’s not accurate.”
This last statement was an interesting example of the standard relationship between the press and high-level politicians and their staff. In theory, both sources and reporters must formally agree to go off the record before doing so. In practice, sources often unilaterally declare, as in this instance, that they’re going off the record without securing a prior agreement with reporters, who frequently play along because they fear damaging their relationship with the source. I made no such agreement with Strong, and “off the record” remarks are often, as in this situation, incredibly banal.