by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The economists and statisticians who built and run the Penn Wharton Budget Model (PWBM) must be doing something right because their work is a major irritant to a White House intent on rushing trillions of dollars in new spending through Congress. The president’s chief of staff is said to have dismissed the academic center’s estimates of the Build Back Better (BBB) agenda as tainted by ideology, and a press aid recently claimed the model’s output was “wrong on the math.” Of course, it is this kind of baseless criticism that is transparently political, not the PWBM.
The PWBM is a nonpartisan initiative of the University of Pennsylvania and is directed by Kent Smetters, a tax official in the Department of the Treasury during the George W. Bush administration with a doctorate in economics from Harvard. He works with an expert staff of qualified analysts and reports to a roster of well-respected internal and external advisors on the model’s design and assumptions. …
… The proximate cause of the recent back-and-forth was the release by the PWBM team of several analyses contradicting the administration’s rosy assessments of the budgetary and economic effects of the BBB social spending legislation. …
… By dismissing the PWBM, the Biden team probably hopes the media will ignore the model’s projections on the grounds that its director once served in government under a Republican president. If that were really the standard for determining objectivity, it would disqualify scores of others who once served under Democratic presidents. It goes without saying that it is unlikely the media will begin ignoring analyses that are tied in any way to officials who once served in the Obama or Clinton administrations.
The attention focused on the PWBM’s budget projections is highlighting the power that a well-timed analysis has long held in critical public policy debates and the importance of avoiding groupthink on important decisions.