POLITICS
02/05/2014 03:01 pm ET Updated Feb 06, 2014

Politico Doesn't Want To Help People Understand The CBO's Obamacare Analysis

Joe Raedle via Getty Images

Reading for comprehension can be hard for some people who work in the media.

And we all know that the typical Congressional Budget Office report isn't written in pictures and rebuses, but actual words and lots of data. So, Tuesday, when everyone cracked the first few pages of the CBO report, got bored and saw the GOP signaling that the report was a "job-killing" nightmare from hell, it presented a predictable challenge to everyone who could and did read the CBO report to go herd all the sputtering clucks back to the henhouse to sleep off their freak-out.

But a new day has dawned, so why is Politico's morning "Huddle" newsletter acting like it was born yesterday?

OBAMACARE BLUES: CBO SAYS ACA WILL CAUSE EQUIVALENT OF 2M FEWER JOBS - David Nather and Jason Millman report for POLITICO: "The Republicans just got a big gift from the Congressional Budget Office: It's going to be a lot easier for them to call Obamacare a 'job killer.' That's because the budget office's new economic report, released Tuesday, says the health care law will cause Americans to work fewer hours - enough to be the equivalent of 2 million fewer jobs in 2017. The latest number is nearly three times as high as the budget office's previous prediction, and it's supposed to rise in later years to the equivalent of 2.5 million jobs in 2024.

Oh, honey. We've been over this. The Affordable Care Act won't "cause Americans to work fewer hours." It will enable workers to make choices they previously weren't able to make -- choices that the CBO projects will lead to workers withholding labor supply, not employers reducing labor demand. The latter would be "job killing." But the former is, "Hey, I don't particularly feel like doing this job anymore, and now that I don't need it to provide (or help pay for) my health care, I'm gonna do something else."

And that could mean many things: reducing one's hours, quitting one job to take a better one, leaving full-time work to start a new business, or actually retiring. That mostly sounds like a list of pretty good choices. It comes down to what kind of society we want, and what we consider to be the good life. Are we here to work as much as we can until the day we die, or is there more to life? (The freedom to say, "I'm gonna do something else," by the way, is basically what we refer to as the "American Dream.")

But what's going on here? Was the CBO report not worth reading before this newsletter was assembled? Well, as this "Huddle" newsletter goes on to say:

There's a lot more fine print about what those numbers really mean, and whether the jobs were 'lost.' In fact, CBO said it's in large part about the number of hours people choose to work, not actual job losses. But what matters politically is how the numbers look in attack ads. And in this election year, '2 million lost jobs' is a Republican ad-maker's dream.

Ha, well, in the first place, this isn't a situation where the CBO hid its findings in "fine print." They're right there, beginning on page 117, in print the same size as all the rest of it. And there's no need to put the word "lost" in those questioning scare quotes, as if one can't be sure what's happening, or there's some disputed contention. There isn't one. Per the CBO: "CBO estimates that the ACA will reduce the total number of hours worked, on net, by about 1.5 percent to 2.0 percent during the period from 2017 to 2024, almost entirely because workers will choose to supply less labor—given the new taxes and other incentives they will face and the financial benefits some will receive."

But what about those Republican attack ads? In truth, there are downsides to what the CBO had to say about the law and its economic effects -- but any ad that contends that 2 million jobs had been killed by Obamacare, according to the CBO, is just telling a lie.

So what is the CBO projecting, good and bad? Well, as workers, empowered by these new options, make the choice to reduce hours or quit working, it will have effects on the overall economy. Not all of the effects will be positive. As Sam Stein and Jeff Young reported Tuesday, while the CBO projects the ACA could have virtuous effects on labor productivity (by dint of more workers having the freedom to "take jobs that better match their skills"), it could also lead to employers making less of an investment in their workforce, because employee turnover makes training investments less appealing.

And over at Business Insider, Josh Barro expands on the upsides and downsides of the CBO report as well. He notes, for example, that workers who choose to reduce hours in order to maintain an income low enough to qualify for ACA subsidies are clearly following a perverse incentive. At the same time, Barro lauds the way the law will make it "easier for people to retire before age 65, quit a full-time job to start a business, or shift to part-time work and spend more time raising children or attending school." (In a separate post, Barro points out that the "buried lede" of this report is that the law will "drive wages up," "strengthening workers' hands in negotiation," and "reduce income inequality.")

Politico contends that the CBO report "will put the White House, and especially red-state Democrats, in an even more awkward position heading into November." I don't know about that! Seems to me that people like higher wages and increased labor mobility and less income inequality. Taken as a whole, those ads that the Democrats will be running suddenly sound pretty competitive.

And it probably won't be too hard for Democrats to find living examples of the virtuous effect of the Affordable Care Act. It only took The Huffington Post a few hours to find Claudia and Joseph Schulz, an Arizona couple who finally achieved their dream of starting a business together, thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

The truth is, this CBO isn't so much a "huge gift" for Republicans. It actually confirms that the ACA is poised to do some things they really, really hate -- like strengthen the bargaining position of middle-class job seekers and force employers to raise wages to compete for low-wage, service-sector workers. It means a less cowed workforce with more options in front of it. It means more sad business lobbyists, which is always good for America.

So, Y Kant Politico Reed? Is it not smart enough to understand the CBO's big word? Actually, it's more like Politico just doesn't care, one way or the other, about what the CBO actually said. Rather, Politico is signaling that it plans to be an unconcerned observer in the coming ad wars over this issue. It possesses the knowledge to properly inform people, and shut down the malformed spin before it gets started. But it is choosing to not be virtuous or decent or honest. The political freakshow is probably good for business, but the Affordable Care Act might be the thing that helps you start yours.

[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not?]

This story appears in Issue 87 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, available Friday, Feb. 7 in the iTunes App store.

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