CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SERVICE MEETS REPUBLICAN MEMORY HOLE
By William Boardman Email address removed
Late on a Friday in September, the Congressional Research Service (CRS), a respected agency within the Library of Congress, released a report concluding, in effect, that there is no objective support for core Republican economic policies. Reducing the top tax rates, the report concludes, has no correlation with the nation's economic growth, but does contribute to the growing gap between the wealthy and the rest of Americans.
Some media reports followed, and then two weeks later the CRS report quietly went away from the CRS website without having had much impact, even though it was a non-partisan debunking of Mitt Romney's core economic argument. More than a month later, the New York Times published a story asking, in effect, "Now what was that all about?" One answer to the mystery turned out to be that Republican pressure on the CRS over the style and content of the report had effectively sent it down the collective memory hole.
Now the Congressional Budget Office has reached essentially the same conclusions, in a report issued November 8. So far, this report is still standing, but Republican intensity in defense of tax cuts for the wealthy is growing as their December 31 expiration date approaches.
Political Pressure Produces Political Silence
In late September, in the midst of the presidential campaign, the CRS had quietly caved in to political pressure. Rather than address critical questions, the CRS decided simply not to defend its work, despite its longstanding reputation for accuracy and non-partisanship in its reports going back decades. CRS officially withdrew the report, despite the objection of its economics division, while the report's author was on vacation. Democrats and others have since re-posted it unofficially but unchanged.
No previous Congressional Research Service report in living memory has ever been withdrawn before, according to the New York Times. Not that the Times made a big deal about any of this. The story ran on Friday, November 2, on page B1 of the second section with the bland headline: "Tax Report Withdrawn At Request of G.O.P." (CRS refused to answer a reporter's inquiry, saying it only answers questions from Congress.)
Over the next few days there was a burst of coverage focusing on Republican suppression of uncomfortable realities, but it was overwhelmed by the election coverage.
George Washington Law School Professor Jonathan Turley characterized the sequence of events as " the GOP attempting to suppress a non-partisan tax study that debunked their entire Ayn Rand/neoconservative taxation mythology that catering to the wealthy creates jobs ". It also raises some interesting questions about political culpability and consequences."
The Professionals Stood by Their Work
Challenging the Times' assertion that CRS pulled the study "on their own," Turley scoffed:
Sure they did. That's why the report's author stands by his work and the report was withdrawn over the objections of the CRS' economic team leadership".
When manifest attempts like this to lie to the public are discovered, the political question becomes what should be done about it and who should be punished for abusing the public trust in the name of political expediency (and greed as in this particular case)?
The question of who should be punished -- and how -- matters, but not as much as some other questions:
- How can we insulate non-partisan institutions like the Congressional Research Service from overt or covert political manipulation?