The CBO, the ACA, and breathtaking ignorance

THE CBO, THE ACA, AND BREATHTAKING IGNORANCE…. If the painful stupidity of our policy discourse brings you down, it’s probably best to just skip this post now. It stems from Republicans’ inability to understand the phrase “reduction of labor,” despite the fact that this really isn’t that complicated.

At a House Budget Committee hearing on Thursday, Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.) pressed Douglas Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office, on the effects of the Affordable Care Act on employment figures. Elmendorf explained that the reform law, given the projected “reduction of labor,” there would be “a reduction of 800,000 workers” by the year 2021.

Yesterday, Republicans seized on this, but in the process, made fools of themselves, at least for those who understand the issue at any substantive level. (thanks to J.T. for the tip)

“More bad news for American families,” was how Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s office described the report in a release.

“Since day one Republicans have opposed Obamacare for a simple reason: it would destroy jobs. Minority Leader Pelosi, Leader Reid and others said we were wrong. Guess not,” said John Murray, deputy chief of staff for Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

This wasn’t limited to Capitol Hill.

Within hours, conservative publications such as the Weekly Standard and the National Review had posted commentaries lauding Elemendorf’s statement. “Job Killing,” declared the National Review. The National Republican Congressional Committee made it a campaign theme, sending out an email on Friday attacking Democrats: “Jay Inslee Doesn’t Get It: ObamaCare Will Cost 800,000 Jobs: Washington Democrat Refuses to Repeal the Law the CBO Admits Will Destroy Jobs.” The Washington Post’s conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin approvingly linked to the youtube video.

It’s hard to overstate how idiotic this is. Indeed, it’s as if Republicans and their media allies haven’t paid any attention to the policy debate at all.

What Elmendorf and the CBO found is that the Affordable Care Act may reduce the labor supply, not the number of actual jobs. The small, projected shift in labor would not come as a result of employers cutting jobs, it would come as the result of some people working less. And why might people work less? Because some workers might decide to retire earlier, knowing that they won’t have to keep working in order to have health care benefits. (And when these older workers leave the workforce, it creates opportunities for younger workers.)

As Jon Chait added yesterday, “In other words, people who are only working because they desperately need employer-sponsored health insurance will no longer do so. They’re not going on the public dole — they’re just people who have the means not to work full-time and will be free to make employment decisions that aren’t premised upon an individual health insurance market that shuts them out. Some workers will choose to retire early because they now have the ability to buy their own health insurance. This is what Republicans call ‘destroying jobs.'”

Even a Republican should be able to understand this. But Paul Ryan and other GOP members of the House Budget Committee, the House Majority Leader’s office, the Weekly Standard, National Review, Jennifer Rubin, and other prominent Republican voices still managed to screw this up. In a fact-check piece, the Washington Post‘s Glenn Kessler said, “This is the kind of political gamesmanship that gives politics a bad name.”

And so we’re left once again with the eternal question: whether these Republicans are deliberately lying or are ignorant on a breathtaking scale. I can’t say with certainty which is these two options is the right explanation, but I also can’t think of any alternatives.