The most egregious of the bogus claims

If one were to create a drinking game in which viewers of last night’s debate took a shot every time a candidate lied, the “winner” would be in the hospital this morning with alcohol poisoning. The Republican candidates treated reality as an inconvenience to be brushed aside in the name of political expediency.

It’d take too long to note all of the falsehoods, though there were some clear gems. Tim Pawlenty claimed Medicare is insolvent (that’s plainly false); Ron Paul said Iraq and Afghanistan share a border (has he not heard of Iran?), and Rick Santorum said President’s Obama refusal to drill for oil is causing pain at the pump (oil production is actually up under Obama, not down).

But my favorite lie came from Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who had this to say about the Affordable Care Act.

“This is the symbol and the signature issue of President Obama during his entire tenure. And this is a job-killer, Sylvia. The CBO, the Congressional Budget Office has said that Obamacare will kill 800,000 jobs. What could the president be thinking by passing a bill like this, knowing full well it will kill 800,000 jobs?”

If Bachmann had any idea what she was talking about, it would make sense to question why the president would do such a thing. But Bachmann’s is either lying or she lacks the ability to understand the phrase “reduction of labor.”

At a House Budget Committee hearing in February, 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 once the law is fully implemented, given the projected “reduction of labor,” there would be “a reduction of 800,000 workers” by the year 2021.

Bachmann thinks this means the CBO believes the law “will kill 800,000 jobs.” It’s hard to overstate how idiotic this is.

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 explained at the time, “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.'”

A member of Congress running for president should be able to grasp this.

And so we’re left once again with the eternal question: whether Bachmann is deliberately trying to deceive the public or is strikingly ignorant. I can’t say with certainty which of these two options is the right explanation, but I also can’t think of any alternatives.