House Republican leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor have been know to cite Congressional Budget Office studies and reject them as tainted. (Photo: Talk Radio News)

Something to keep in mind as Republicans propose finance bills and talk about cutting deficits in the coming two years: Knowing that, as Stephen Colbert said, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias,” they do whatever they can to cloud the situation.

They need to when their stated goal of blocking health care reform — introducing the “Repeal of the Job Killing Health Care Law Act” was nearly the first thing done as the term started this week — is contrary to their stated concerns about the deficit, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The bipartisan office said Thursday that repeal would add about $230 billion to the deficit between 2012 and 2019. Since that doesn’t square with deficit reduction, Speaker of the House John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, rejects the analysis.

“I do not believe that repealing the job-killing health care law will increase the deficit. CBO’s entitled to their opinion, but they’re locked within constraints of the 1974 Budget Act,” Boehner said, quoted by Talking Points Memo. “CBO can only provide a score based on the assumptions that were given to them.”

Wisconsin Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee Chairman, agrees in his press releases selling the  repeal bill:

CBO must score what’s put in front of them. Our disagreement is not with the nonpartisan professionals at CBO but with the Democrats who employed smoke-and-mirrors gimmicks to attain a score that would show a deficit reduction.

(Before going further, you may want to read this Thursday post by Ezra Klein at The Washington Post. It turns off the smoke machine and knocks down the mirrors and finds they belong to the Republicans.)

Serving their purposes

But even House Minority Leader Eric Cantor likes to tout the CBO when it serves Republican purposes (for instance, “Our House bill is validated by the Congressional Budget Office,” Cantor told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Feb. 23), and it was only February when Ryan himself used the imprimatur of the office to lend legitimacy to his “Roadmap for America’s Future.”

“Here is what the Congressional Budget Office is telling us with respect to our debt,” he said, explaining how his proposed changes to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, government spending and tax structure could reverse “the [deficit] path we are on right now. We are going to crush our economy if we continue going down this path. It is the interest itself that compounds so viciously and gets out of control. We are looking at an era where we are on the cusp of giving the next generation such an unsustainable burden of debt that they are not going to have the kind of living standards we have enjoyed in this country.”

That sounds serious, which makes it seem all the more meaningful that his plan was released with CBO analysis saying it would “make the Social Security and Medicare programs permanently solvent [and] lift the growing debt burden on future generations, and hold federal taxes to no higher than 19 percent of GDP.”

But now we know how Ryan knows about that smoke and those mirrors. It turns out Republicans knew of the so-called “constraints of the 1974 Budget Act” before last week and — surprise! — have used them for political gain.

For his roadmap, Ryan asked the office “to assume that the major tax cuts he calls for won’t create any change in federal revenue over the next two decades — at all,” Talking Points Memo reported, quoting the CBO as acknowledging to Ryan:

As specified by your staff, for this analysis total federal tax revenues are assumed to equal those under [current fiscal policy].

When the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center and Center for Budget and Policy Priorities did new analyses on the Ryan tax changes, described by TPM as “a massive tax cut for the wealthy, paired with substantial tax increases on 90 percent of the country,” it found “the Ryan plan would result in very large revenue losses relative to current policies”:

[The Tax Policy Center] estimates that even with its middle-class tax increases, the plan would reduce federal revenues to 16 percent of GDP in 2014. Because the tax cuts for the wealthy would dwarf the tax increases for the middle class, the Ryan plan would allow the federal debt to continue growing for a number of decades to come, despite its steep cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

Which is it? If is Ryan serious about what the CBO says about the deficit, he shouldn’t be putting misleading restrictions on its analysis — and then complaining about those restrictions as reasons why what the CBO says can’t be taken seriously. Republicans including Boehner were careful not to embrace Ryan’s roadmap, although Boehner also said that “Off the top of my head, I couldn’t tell you” anything in it with which he disagreed.

Omitting the inconvenient

Conservatives have smoke-and-mirrors techniques beyond the CBO.

The New York Times’ David Brooks showed some Thursday when he wrote about health care reform, saying a judge “has struck down the individual mandate, the plan’s centerpiece” and warning that the law suffers from false and “absurdly off base” cost and enrollment projections. He gave as an example that only 8,000 people have signed up for new high-risk pools for the uninsured instead of the projected 375,000.

“If other projections are off by this much, the results will be disastrous,” Brooks writes.

He conveniently failed to note that federal Judge Henry E. Hudson’s not only owns between $15,000 and $50,000 in a political consulting firm that worked against health care reform, but issued a ruling seen even by conservatives as having “a fairly obvious and quite significant error” likely to get it thrown out.

And his worries about rolling out the plan shows pretty quick surrender for a guy who on Aug. 30 summed up the situation in Iraq — about seven years after the hoisting of a “mission accomplished” banner — as “Nation Building Works.” And who said Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit, “has produced impressive reductions by allowing consumers to pocket prescription drug savings.”

Could he have forgotten the difficulties the Bush administration had getting America to buy in to Medicare Part D?

At the one-year anniversary for that plan, noted The Associated Press on Dec. 8, 2004,

About 1.5 million low-income older or disabled Americans have signed up for the cards, Medicare chief Mark McClellan said. More than 7 million people are eligible. … Highlighting the difficulty, the private companies that sponsor the drug cards sent nearly 2 million cards to low-income people in October and asked them to make one phone call to activate the card and government assistance. Only 100,000 have done so, McClellan said.

A Jan. 18, 2006, piece in the Post by Ceci Connolly outlined the hiring of thousands of customer service representatives and emergency phone lines for pharmacists set up to implement the act, prompting 14 Democratic governors to write President Bush to say that “while well-intended, the new Medicare drug benefit has caused confusion, mismanagement and a bureaucratic nightmare.”