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基思·亨尼西(Hennessey)的博客

美国前国家经济委员会主任、乔治·布什的首席经济顾问Keith Hennessey

 
 
 

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在国会中工作:向裁判咆哮  

2009-06-24 08:21:31|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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国会预算局局长道格?埃尔曼多夫正在开展一项伟大的工作,以严格公正的方式报告经济政策争论。埃尔曼多夫博士的背景意味着他的经济政策观点与我不同。这并不令人惊讶,因为他是众议院预算委员会主席众议员约翰·斯普拉特(D-SC)和参议院预算委员会主席参议员肯特·康拉德(D-ND)选定的人。埃尔曼多夫在美联储工作过(强烈表明其素质一流),也曾服务于克林顿经济顾问委员会和财政部。就任国会预算局局长之前,他曾是布鲁金斯学会的学者,也曾参与罗伯特·鲁宾发起的左翼汉弥尔顿计划。

埃尔曼多夫博士现在扮演一位公正的裁判,着实令人钦佩。他对经济政策争论同样颇有贡献。当国会预算局处于风头浪尖时,他们不仅编制表格,而且不偏不倚地解释表格数据的含义。

国会预算局服务于国会。如果你正在起草一份议案,那么你需要国会预算局的“评分”。国会预算局的员工与其姐妹税务部门联合税收委员会的员工合作,他们会告诉你根据你的议案,将增加或减少多少支出和税收。如果你议案的预算结果与国会每年通过的预算决议不一致,你的议案将在程序上遭遇种种艰难险阻,成功通过的机会大大减小。

国会预算局的多数员工都有高级学位,通常是经济学、公共政策或一些特定政策专业(例如保健或税收)。他们的世界是电子数据表、立法语言以及愤怒的国会议员和国会员工的世界。国会预算局员工通常比作者更了解议案。国会议员和国会员工没少向国会预算局员工咆哮。

做为一个政府机构,国会预算局员工有点左倾。这并不令人惊讶。关于这一点,最好的证据就是国会预算局员工离职后,他们极有可能为民主党的国会议员或自由派智囊团(比如布鲁金斯、城市学会或预算与政策优先中心)工作。

同时,国会预算局的机构声誉建立在无党派、无机构偏向和理性严谨的基础上。大体上,我认为他们在抛弃个人的政策偏向、履行其公正裁判的重要职责方面,做的很好。

国会预算局在无党无派时才能做得最好:无论证据会让谁心烦意乱,他们依然据实以报。由于任命局长的是国会多数派,特别是局长通常跟国会多数派属同一政党,所以当证据让国会的多数派不安时,如实陈述证据表明的事实,对局长而言便是非常困难的事了。

有时国会预算局偏离正路,试图得到两党的支持,而不是保持无党无派。这就像一个裁判试图做出有利于比赛一方的误判,来抵消之前做出的有利于另一方的误判,以便将比赛判为平局。我认为裁判应如实裁判比赛,不管这样做会得罪谁,也不管得分或过去的战况如何。即便裁判连续5次做出不利于一个队伍的判定,也可能是公平的。这可能因为另一个队伍多次犯规,或他们的教练喜欢威胁裁判。过去的一些国会预算局局长试图平衡政治,从而得到双方同样的支持。在向国会议员传达坏消息时,他们接受明知是苍白的论据,以取悦这些国会议员或减轻他们的怒火。我认为这种行为对国会预算局的影响不好。现在看来很少有这种行为了。

九十年代中期的罗伯特·赖肖尔博士是给人印象最深、最为著名的国会预算局局长之一。他由民主党任命,在克林顿政府试图通过《克林顿保健计划》时,却做出一些激怒克林顿政府的毫不让步的预算决定(在我看来,这些决定是正确的)。赖肖尔博士受到国会民主党领袖的公开激烈抨击。我可以想象,他私下承受的压力甚至会更大。

由于卫生保健已经提到政府和国会多数派的议程顶部,埃尔曼多夫博士在今年面临着相似的处境。国会预算局的裁决是他们能否成功的关键。他现在已经承受很大压力。过去几周,我听过一些特别会议的报告,高级国会议员已经直接向埃尔曼多夫博士施加压力,要求他在得分裁决上通融一下。他顶住了压力,国会预算局的公共工作是第一流的。

我承认这一点,尽管我不同意国会预算局在这个问题上的所有工作结果。我不同意国会预算局的一些裁决,特别是“保健交换”是否应该算入预算之中这个问题的一些细节。但我认为国会预算局在这个问题上是公正的。我在国会的第一份工作是担任主席皮特·多米尼西(R-NM)领导下的参议院预算委员会员工的保健与退休分析员。我在保健预算政策方面工作了15年,自认已有极佳的嗅觉,可以嗅出不公正的估计和分析。美妙的是,现在这种情况基本绝迹了。

在过去几周,我在国会员工中有了许多新读者(两翼都有)。欢迎你们。如果你们在跟国会预算局打交道方面经验不多,我很乐意介绍一些小窍门,告诉你如何跟国会预算局打好交道,让你有最大的机会得到不会阻碍你议案通过的裁决:

  • · 给一份议案让他们打分,至少也要给他们一份非常详尽的政策说明。你陈述得越精确,得分就会越好。国会预算局会用怀疑的眼光来看待含糊不清之处,如果你没有说明清楚,让他们产生疑惑,那么通常不会对你有利。
  • · 在跟他们交谈之前,阅读他们有关你议案主题的看法。这样你会更敏锐,也会因为做好自己的工作而更受分析员尊敬。
  • · 提前计划,走在前面。每位分析员和每个部门都有一堆工作等着。如果你不是管辖委员会的员工或预算委员会的员工,也不是领导阶层,那么在这个工作队列中,你会排得很靠后。忍受这一点,为此做好计划。
  • · 向你附近友好的预算委员会员工寻求帮助。
  • · 在评判你议案的分析员处理你的议案之前、期间、之后,跟分析员交谈。问他们你的议案是否有不清楚的地方。看看能否进行讨论,以便及早得知他们的估计方向是否会破坏你的议案。如果会,让他们暂停,让你修正议案。看看是否能够不让他们做出估计,然后你从零开始,从而节省他们的时间。
  • · 做好你的工作,跟处理你议案的分析员分享。如果你有好的研究结果、数据或信息,跟国会预算局分享它们。尤其是当涉及的是新问题时,更要如此。如果你有专家,跟国会预算局一起召开一个会议。任何人只要有数据和好的论据,他们都会乐于跟他/她交谈。
  • · 国会预算局员工不是被雇佣来关心你的议案是好政策还是坏政策。不用介意。雇佣他们仅仅是为了算出你的议案对联邦预算的影响。
  • · 不要试图迁怒于信使。这样做往往会适得其反。
  • · 对我而言,比起试图改变他们的注意,向国会预算局分析员提问效果总是更好。我试图弄清楚他们是如何给出得分的,他们为何认为我的议案会产生那种预算效果。有时,跟你的核心目的只是稍有关联的某些因素,会让你的议案被判定为有较大的预算影响。你能越好地理解这一点,就能越好地习惯得到低分。国会预算局分析员对尖锐问题的反应,通常会比对尖叫的反应好得多。
  • · 我发现,比起令人不快,保持恭敬有礼总是可以得到好得多的结果。我不认为态度会直接影响分析员的工作结果,但确实让我有更佳的答复时间,让我得到正式书面估计中没有的更有用的信息。此外,如果你的表现得像个蠢人,那么你事实上就是个蠢人。谁想这样呢?

埃尔曼多夫博士和国会预算局员工面临的挑战,与赖肖尔博士领导下的国会预算局在《克林顿保健计划》争论期间所面临的挑战相似。迄今为止,他们沉着地顶住了压力,但真正的压力才刚刚来临。

(翻译纠错。读者发现任何翻译错误请发邮件给我们,谢谢:caijingblog#126.com 将#改为@)


英文原文(地址:http://keithhennessey.com/2009/06/22/barking-at-the-ref/ ):

 

Working in Congress: Barking at the ref

Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf is doing a great job informing the economic policy debate in a rigorous and unbiased matter.  Dr. Elmendorf’s background suggests a different perspective on economic policy from my own.  This is unsurprising, given that he was chosen by the chairmen of the House and Senate Budget Committees, Rep. John Spratt (D-SC) and Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND).  He worked at the Fed (a strong signal of first-quality), and in the Clinton Council of Economic Advisers and Treasury Department.  Before coming to CBO as director, he was a scholar at the Brookings Institution and worked with the left-side Hamilton Project founded by Robert Rubin.

Dr. Elmendorf is serving admirably as an impartial referee, and is contributing substantially to the economic policy debate.  When CBO is at the top of its game, they don’t just produce tables.  They explain without bias what the tables of numbers mean.

CBO works for Congress.  If you’re writing a bill, you need a “score” from CBO.  Working with their sister tax organization, the Joint Tax Committee staff, they will tell you how much spending and taxes will increase or decrease based on your legislative language.  If the budget effects of your bill make it inconsistent with the budget resolution passed each year by the Congress, then your bill faces difficult procedural hurdles, and its chance of legislative success declines significantly.

Most CBO staff have advanced degrees, often in economics, public policy, or some specific policy specialty like health or taxes.  Theirs is a world of spreadsheets, legislative language, and angry Members of Congress and Congressional staff.  Often the CBO staff understand a bill better than the author.  CBO staff get barked at a lot by Members of Congress and their staff.

As a government institution, it’s not surprising that CBO staff on average lean a little left.  The best evidence of this is that when CBO staff leave, they are far more likely to work for a Democratic member of Congress, or for a liberal think tank like Brookings, the Urban Institute, or the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

At the same time, CBO’s reputation as an institution is predicated on its nonpartisanship, lack of institutional bias, and intellectual rigor.  I think that, on the whole, they do as good a job as any of setting aside their personal policy preferences and fulfilling this critical role of an unbiased referee.

CBO is at its best when it is nonpartisan:  they say what the evidence demonstrates, no matter who it upsets.  This is most difficult for the Director when it upsets the Congressional majority that gave him his job, especially since he is usually of the same political party as they.

Sometimes CBO strays and tries to be bipartisan, rather than nonpartisan.  That’s like a referee who tries to even out the game by balancing a bad call he made earlier for one team, by making a bad call now to benefit the other team.  I believe the referee should call the play as he sees it, no matter who it upsets, and no matter what the score or history.  If the ref makes 5 calls in a row that upset one team, that may not be bias.  It may just be that the other team is fouling a lot, or that they have a coach that likes to hector the ref.  Some past CBO directors have tried to balance the politics so they get equal heat from both sides.  They do this by taking arguments they know are weak and including them to please (or mitigate the anger of) the Member of Congress to whom they’re delivering other bad news.  I believe this kind of behavior reflects poorly on the institution.  It seems largely absent now.

One of the most effective and best-known CBO directors was Dr. Robert Reischauer in the mid-90s.  Put in place by Democrats, he made some hard (and, in my view, correct) budget scoring calls that infuriated the Clinton Administration as it tried to enact the Clinton Health Plan.  Dr. Reischauer was publicly savaged by Congressional Democratic Leaders.  I imagine the private pressure was even more intense.

Dr. Elmendorf faces a similar situation this year as health care has risen to the top of the Administration’s and the Congressional majority’s agenda.  CBO’s rulings are critical to their chances of success, and the pressure already being brought to bear is intense.  I have heard reports of specific meetings within the past few weeks in which senior Members of Congress have been directly pressuring Dr. Elmendorf to cut them some slack on scoring.  He has withstood that pressure, and the public work CBO is providing is first-rate.

I say this even though I don’t agree with everything they’re producing on this topic.  I disagree with some of the judgment calls they are making, in particular, on some of the details of whether “health exchanges” should be counted in the budget.  But I think they’re being fair about it.  In my first job as a Congressional staffer, I was the health and retirement analyst for the Senate Budget Committee staff under Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM).  I have worked on health budget policy for 15 years, and think I’ve got a pretty good nose for sniffing out biased estimates and analysis.  It is now remarkably and admirably absent.

Over the past few weeks, I have been getting a lot of new readers among Congressional staff (from both sides of the aisle).  Welcome.  For those of you without a lot of experience dealing with CBO, I’d like to suggest some tips for how to work well with the CBO and maximize your chances of getting a score that doesn’t destroy your chances of legislative success:

  • Give them a bill to score, or at a minimum a highly detailed policy spec.  The more precise you are, the better your score will be.  CBO takes a skeptic’s eye to ambiguity and will often not give you the benefit of the doubt when you’re unclear.
  • Read what they have written on your bill’s topic before you talk with them.  You’ll be smarter, and you’ll get more respect from the analyst for having done your homework.
  • Plan ahead.  Way ahead.  Each analyst and branch has a queue of work.  If you’re not on the staff of the committee of jurisdiction, the Budget Committee staff, or in leadership, you will start pretty far back in that queue.  Live with it, and plan for it.
  • Ask your friendly neighborhood Budget Committee staffer for help.
  • Talk with the analyst who is scoring your bill before, during, and after they have worked on it.  Ask them if there are parts of your bill that are unclear.  See if you can get a discussion going, so you know early if their estimate is headed in a direction that is devastating for you.  If it is, ask them to stop so you can fix your bill.  See if you can save them time by not making them estimate something, and then starting from scratch.
  • Do your homework, and share with the analysts working on your bill.  If you have a good study, data or information, share it with CBO, especially if this is a new issue.  If you have an expert, set up a meeting with CBO.  They will talk to anyone with data and good arguments.
  • CBO staff are paid not to care about whether your bill is good policy or bad policy.  Don’t be offended.  They are paid only to figure out its effects on the federal budget.
  • Don’t try to shoot the messenger.  It’s usually counterproductive.
  • I always had more success asking CBO analysts questions, than trying to change their minds.  I would try to figure out how they approach a score, and why they thought my bill would produce the budget effect that it did.  Sometimes you get scored with a big budgetary effect for something that is tangential to your core purpose.  The better you understand this, the more you can adapt to get your score down.  CBO analysts generally react much better to incisive questions than they do to screaming.
  • I always found I had much better success by being respectful and polite than a jerk.  I don’t think it directly affected the analysis they produced for me, but it did get me better response times, and more useful information that wasn’t in the formal written estimate.  Besides, if you act like a jerk, then you are a jerk.  Who wants that?

Dr. Elmendorf and the CBO staff face a test similar to that faced by CBO under Dr. Reischauer during debate on the Clinton Health Plan.  They have so far withstood the pressure with aplomb, but the real pressure is just beginning.

[点击查看Keith Hennessey的英文博客]  [Keith Hennessey的中文博客]

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