FACT CHECK: Anti-Obamacare Chorus is Off Key

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By CALVIN WOODWARD | Associated Press

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.

The 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:

SEN. MARCO RUBIO of Florida: “Just yesterday, the
Congressional Budget Office found that Obamacare will cost millions of
Americans their jobs.”

REP. 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.”

REP. PHIL GINGREY of Georgia: Obamacare creates
“unprecedented uncertainty for job creators that, according to the
non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, will leave millions of people
looking for work in the next few years.”

___

THE 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 to

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 law.

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 work force. That's the main
reason it expects growth will 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.

House 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.

But 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.


EDITOR'S NOTE _ An occasional look at political claims that take shortcuts with the facts or don't tell the full story


Copyright 2014 The
Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be
published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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