CBO provides budgetary and economic information in a variety of ways and at various points in the legislative process.
CBO regularly publishes projections of budgetary and economic outcomes that are based on the assumption that current laws regarding federal spending and revenues will generally remain in place. Those projections, which are known as baseline projections, cover the 10-year period used in the Congressional budget process. The reports on those projections usually describe the differences between the current projections and previous ones; compare the economic forecast with those of other forecasters; and show the budgetary effects of some alternative policies.
CBO provides the Congress with budget projections beyond the standard 10-year budget window. Those projections, which focus primarily on the coming 25 years, show the effects of demographic trends, economic developments, and rising health care costs on federal spending, revenues, and deficits. The assumptions about federal spending and revenue policies used for the long-term budget projections match those underlying the agency’s 10-year baseline for the first decade and are extended in a similar way to later years. The report also shows the long-term budgetary and economic effects of some alternative policies.
CBO provides formal, written estimates of the cost of virtually every bill approved by Congressional committees to show how the bill would affect spending or revenues over the next 5 or 10 years, depending on the type of spending involved. Each cost estimate describes the basis for the estimate. For most tax legislation, CBO uses estimates provided by the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation, a separate group that works closely with the Congressional tax-writing committees. In addition to formal, written estimates for bills approved by committees, CBO provides a far greater number of informal, preliminary estimates as committees are considering what legislation to advance, as amendments to legislation are being debated, and at other stages in the legislative process.
CBO prepares analytic reports that examine particular federal spending programs, aspects of the tax code, and budgetary and economic challenges. The reports cover many areas of federal policy, including health care, economic growth, social insurance, income security, taxes, energy, the environment, national security, financial issues, education, infrastructure, and more. Most CBO reports present a set of options for changes in the federal program or tax rules being examined. Such reports generally include estimates of each option’s budgetary effects, economic effects, or both, as well as a discussion of each option’s benefits and drawbacks. As with the agency’s other products, these reports make no recommendations. Some CBO reports provide background information about CBO’s other analyses to enhance the transparency of the agency’s work.
Most CBO reports are written at the request of the Chairman or Ranking Member of a committee or subcommittee or at the request of the leadership of either party in the House or Senate. In some cases, the agency presents its analyses as testimony before Congressional committees rather than in report format. In addition, CBO’s managers and analysts sometimes make presentations to professional groups, and slides from those presentations are generally posted on CBO’s website. The agency also sometimes summarizes its analyses in less traditional formats (such as infographics); those materials are available on CBO’s website as well.
After the President submits a budget, CBO “reestimates” it, using the agency’s own economic forecast and estimating methods—the same forecast and methods that it uses to make its baseline spending and revenue projections and to estimate the effects of other spending and revenue proposals. That approach allows the Congress to compare the various proposals and projections with each other.
Periodically, CBO produces a reference volume examining numerous options for reducing budget deficits. The volume includes a wide range of options, derived from many sources, for reducing spending or increasing revenues. For each option, CBO presents an estimate of its effects on the budget and a discussion of its benefits and drawbacks but makes no recommendations.
CBO’s cost estimates for bills approved by authorizing committees include analyses of the costs of mandates that those bills would impose on state, local, and tribal governments and on the private sector.
CBO produces analyses of federal mandates in legislation throughout the year. In addition, the agency maintains an online search that includes information, starting in 2013, about mandates in legislation and in public laws. The data for the online search is updated periodically. Information about CBO’s analyses of federal mandates in legislation during the 1996–2014 period may be found in a series of annual reports.
CBO issues a monthly analysis of federal spending and revenue totals for the previous month and the fiscal year to date.
CBO provides the Budget and Appropriations Committees with frequent tabulations of Congressional action affecting spending and revenues. Those scorekeeping reports provide information about whether legislative actions are consistent with the spending and revenue levels set by budget resolutions.
CBO prepares reports listing all programs and activities funded for the current fiscal year for which authorizations of appropriations have expired or will expire during the current fiscal year.
CBO is required to publish estimates of the caps on funding for discretionary programs for each fiscal year through 2021 and to report whether, according to those estimates, a sequestration (a cancellation of budgetary resources that have already been provided) would be required. However, the Administration’s Office of Management and Budget ultimately decides whether a sequestration is required on the basis of its own estimates.
CBO’s working papers include papers that provide technical descriptions of official CBO analyses and papers that represent independent research by CBO analysts. Through those papers, CBO aims to enhance the transparency of its work and to encourage external review of that work. Working papers are not subject to CBO’s regular review and editing process.
To provide more detail about CBO’s budget and economic projections and to add to the transparency of CBO’s other analyses, the agency posts a considerable quantity of data and other technical information on its website.