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Dewonkify – Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Score

The word: “Score” or “CBO Score”

Definition:  ”Score” or “CBO Score” generally refers to a cost estimate conducted by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO).  According to CBO, the agency is required by federal law to undertake a formal cost estimate for most legislative proposals (except appropriations measures) that are passed out of a House or Senate full committee.  CBO cost estimates employ certain economic assumptions and require the agency to make particular projections over a period of time, usually 10 years.  CBO scores use current federal law as a baseline for its assumptions and the agency does not presume any future modifications that might be made to federal laws, programs, or spending.  For example, if scoring Medicare legislation, CBO “takes that legislation as it is written and does not attempt to predict the ways in which the Congress might amend that legislation in the future … in addition to its budget projections that reflect current law, the agency regularly shows the effects of adopting alternative policies that have been discussed by the Congress, so that the budgetary impact of those alternative policies is clear.”

Used in a sentence:  ”Sen. Hatch agreed that the reduced CBO score provided a significant opportunity to address the SGR and that Congress needed to act quickly saying, ‘[W]e know from previous years that the CBO score has a tendency to fluctuate.’”  “Senate Finance Committee Holds SGR Hearing and Asks Providers for Specific Recommendations,” American Association of Medical Colleges, May 17, 2013

What it Means:  The term “score” can be used both as a noun and a verb.  For example, it is a common for Congressional staff to ask advocates, “Has CBO scored your bill?”  Translated: the staffer is inquiring as to whether a cost estimate has been undertaken on the particular legislation.  In this example, the term is being used as a verb.  Another common question Members of Congress may ask when being approached to cosponsor legislation is, “What is the CBO score?”  In this case, it is being used as a noun and the elected official wants to know the amount of federal spending CBO has estimated as the cost of the proposal.

History:  CBO was created in 1974, as part of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 and it is tasked with undertaking nonpartisan, “independent analyses of budgetary and economic issues to support the Congressional budget process.”  In addition to formal cost estimates of bills that are passed out of full committee, the agency – upon request by a committee or member of Congressional leadership – can also undertake a formal cost estimate at other stages of the legislative process.  It also is common for CBO to be asked to do an informal “score” of a draft bill or other proposal, to help inform the policymaking process.  These “informal” scores typically are kept confidential as they “do not undergo the same review procedures required for formal estimates.”  Other entities besides CBO can conduct legislative cost estimates; it is not uncommon for advocacy organizations to hire economic consulting firms to help them “score” legislative proposals to have cost information to share with Congressional offices they are approaching for support.  For such “scores” to have any credibility they must utilize CBO’s overall methodology and employ its economic assumptions, projections, and baseline.

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About this Author

Ilisa Paul, District Policy Group President, Drinker Biddle, Government Attorney
President, District Policy Group

Ilisa Halpern Paul has more than 20 years of experience in government relations, advocacy, and policymaking in for-profit, non-profit, academic, federally-funded, and government settings. She leads the firm’s Lobbying, Policy and Advocacy team as managing government relations director and is president of the District Policy Group.

Ilisa advises for-profit companies and non-profit organizations with respect to advancing their federal legislative, regulatory, programmatic, policy, and...

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