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Post Columnist Is Big Offender on CBO Obamacare Report

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Republicans were, as usual, hysterical in their lies and distortions about the Congressional Budget Office's report on Obamacare's effects on jobs and the economy. Various GOP leaders or groups falsely cited CBO as saying the law would have a "devastating impact on jobs;" that it would result in "even more pink slips," and was "bad for the economy," by "destroying fulltime jobs."

Nor will the media win any medals for their coverage of the report. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post initially headlined that CBO estimated a loss of some two million jobs, before making corrections. CNN made the same mistake at first, as did others. In fact, the budget office report said no such thing about Obamacare killing jobs. What it said was that the number of workers, not the number of jobs, would be reduced.

The distinction is important. The CBO pointed out that by separating health insurance from employment, Obamacare makes it possible for people who choose to swap their full-time jobs for part-time, or to quit and retire early, or leave to start a new job or business, to do so without having to worry about not having health insurance. So there may well be fewer workers, but not necessarily fewer jobs. And those same jobs can then be filled by other, often younger, workers who might otherwise be unemployed.

The worst offender I saw in the press was the Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank. I found him terribly hypocritical because he offered two almost completely contrasting takes on the CBO report on successive days, without ever admitting he'd done so. In his Wednesday column, Milbank wrote, referring to the non-partisan budget office employees, that "the government's green eyeshades had bestowed a big gift on the law's Republican critics."

In that column, Milbank embraced the Republican argument that the report "wasn't pretty for Obamacare." The reduction of 2.3 million full-timers in the workforce by 2021, he wrote, "will inevitably be a drag on economic growth," which is "grim news for the White House and for Democrats on the ballot in November." And, Milbank added:

This independent arbiter [CBO], long embraced by the White House, has validated a core compaint of the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) critics: that it will discourage work and become an ungainly entitlement. Disputing Republicans charges is much easier than refuting the federal government's official scorekeepers.

Milbank went on to dismiss the White House's effort to paint the report as mostly good news, by saying that effort was contradictory and irrelevant. He never bothered to mention the administration's best argument, made by Jason Furman, chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisors. Furman compared Obamacare's potential effect on the labor market to that of two legendary government programs that gave millions of Americans a new freedom of choice about whether and how much to work. And he ridiculed GOP efforts to repeal the new healthcare law, telling reporters:

I have no doubt, if for example, we got rid of Social Security and Medicare, there are many 95-year-olds who would choose to work more to avoid potentially starving or to give themselves the opportunity to get health care, I don't think anyone would say that's a compelling argument to eliminate Social Security and Medicare.

But, while not calling for repeal, Milbank was having none of Furman's argument. He simply ignored it. His column concluded: "Obamacare has been undermined by the very entity they had used to validate it."

That was Wednesday. A day later, Milbank appeared on Chris Mathews's MSNBC program "Hardball" and took the opposite tack.

Mathews began the segment by quite properly attacking the GOP's lies about the CBO reporting that Obamacare would cost jobs and hurt the economy. Mathews then played a clip of CBO director Douglas Elmendorf testifying before Congress that Obamacare would boost demand for labor and reduce the unemployment rate.

Totally abandoning the case he made Wednesday against Obamare's allegedly disastrous effects, Milbank first replied to Mathews by hedging:

You could make a case based on actual things in that CBO report that were damning about Obamacare. On balance, it was fairly mixed.

"Fairly mixed," not virtually all bad, as he wrote just the day before.

Milbank then went further, criticizing Republicans for making the same case that he himself made the day before, saying that the GOP was "arguing something that is completely made up out of whole cloth," something, Milbank said, that was "completely untethered from the facts."

He never bothered to mention that he had put forth this same Republican argument "completely made up out of whole cloth," only the day before.

I wish Milbank would make up his mind. He gets my vote as hypocrite of the month.