FACT CHECK: Anti-Obamacare chorus is off key

EDITOR’S NOTE _ An occasional look at political claims that take shortcuts with the facts or don’t tell
the full story
WASHINGTON (AP) — New estimates that President
Barack Obama’s health care law will encourage millions of Americans to
leave the workforce or reduce their work hours have touched off an
I-told-you-so chorus from Republicans, who’ve claimed all along that the
law will kill jobs. But some aren’t telling it straight.
analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicts the law
will give several million people an opportunity to work less or not at
all, because they won’t be stuck in jobs just for the sake of keeping
the health insurance they get from employers.
To some Republicans, that
amounts to "wreaking havoc on working families," ”dire consequences
for workers" and a shower of pink slips across the land — conclusions
unsupported by the report.
The study estimates that the workforce
will be reduced by the equivalent of 2.3 million full-time workers by
2021 as people choose to leave it. More would take early retirement,
work fewer hours or otherwise rearrange their work-home balance to take
advantage of new subsidies for health insurance and new markets for
individual policies that don’t depend on having a job.
In a key
point overlooked in the GOP response, the report says, "The estimated
reduction stems almost entirely from a net decline in the amount of
labor that workers choose to supply, rather than from a net drop in
businesses’ demand for labor."
In other words, workers aren’t
being laid off. They are taking themselves out of the workforce, in many
cases opening job opportunities for others.
As if recognizing
that fellow Republicans were getting a bit overheated, Rep. Paul Ryan of
Wisconsin, House Budget Committee chairman, introduced a reality check
when questioning Douglas Elmendorf, budget office director, during a
hearing Wednesday. "So just to understand this, it’s not that employers
are laying people off, it’s that … people aren’t working in the
workforce, aren’t supplying labor," he posited.
"That is right," Elmendorf replied.
A look at some of the Republican claims and how they compare with the facts:
MARCO RUBIO of Florida: "Just yesterday, the Congressional Budget
Office found that Obamacare will cost millions of Americans their jobs."
JOHN KLINE of Minnesota: "The president’s health care law is destroying
full-time jobs. … This fatally flawed health care scheme is wreaking
havoc on working families nationwide."
Georgia: Obamacare creates "unprecedented uncertainty for job creators
that, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, will
leave millions of people looking for work in the next few years."
FACTS: No one knows whether the health care law will turn out to be
good or bad for jobs and the economy. Everything is guesswork, however
educated the guess.
The budget office, generally respected by both
sides but not infallible, predicts some elements of the health care law
will help job growth and other parts will hurt it.
On the plus
side, for example, it expects lower-income people to have more money to
spend because more of them will have their health insurance partially or
fully paid for by government under the law.
On the negative side,
Elmendorf told Ryan’s committee that in the short run, the law would
increase employers’ costs for their workers and reduce the number of
people they hire. Over time, this could put downward pressure on wages,
he said.
But those effects, good and bad, are expected to be
modest. Of more consequence is the expectation that millions will take
themselves voluntarily out of the labor force because they can afford
The budget office forecast that over the next several years,
there will be plenty of unemployed people available to fill those jobs.
But over the longer term as the economy improves, the supply will
shrink, and because of that, total employment and the number of hours
people work will be less than it would have been without the health care
A smaller workforce means fewer people producing goods and
services, which translates into slower economic growth. The CBO report
also forecasts that an aging population will cause more Americans to
retire, further reducing the workforce. That’s the main reason it
expects growth to average roughly 2.5 percent over the next 10 years,
below its long-run pace of about 3 percent.
Some Republicans picked their words more carefully than others in reacting to the report.
Speaker John Boehner, for example, said the report backs up Republican
arguments that Obamacare "hurts take-home pay," a plausible point as far
as it goes. Ryan said the availability of health insurance subsidies
will be a disincentive to find work, a claim supported by the study.
the predicted withdrawal from the labor market is no more a killer of
jobs than today’s surge of retirements by baby boomers entering old age.
If anything, it could open job opportunities for people who can’t get
in the workforce now.
Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.
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