Republicans come out for ‘job lock’

Well, this should get interesting. Republicans are now attacking a Dem House candidate for saying it’s a good thing that Obamacare will give people more control over their employment choices by relieving them from “job lock,” i.e., the lack of flexibility that results from work being tied to the need for insurance.

That isn’t how Republicans are putting it. They’re misrepresenting what Alex Sink, the Dem candidate in the special election in Florida’s 13th district, actually said. The need to mislead here goes to the pitfalls in the Republican attack on Dems over the CBO report’s findings — and, more broadly, about the pitfalls in the general GOP attack on Dems for wanting to create “dependency” by expanding the safety net.

In a Florida TV interview, Sink was asked to respond to the CBO report, and said:

“Over the years, particularly the past five six years when we’ve been in this horrible economic environment, I’ve had so many people express to me, ‘Boy Alex,  I’d love to start a business or I’d love to change jobs, but I can’t because Ive got good health insurance at my workplace now. I’m stuck in a dead-end job and I’m not very happy in it but I have to stay here.’ That’s what the report referenced more: people having the ability to have more freedom and more choice in their life. Even maybe some people who would rather work maybe part time and not be a full time worker so they can do other things with their life. So actually, it’s kind of an exciting prospect.”

That’s not too controversial, is it? Well, apparently it is. The NRCC is already attacking Sink by claiming:

This Democrat just admitted she thinks Americans working fewer hours is an “exciting prospect.”

Note how that conveniently airbrushes out Sink’s suggestion that the employment choice and flexibility Americans now have is a good thing. I assume Sink’s quote will become the subject of more attacks and may even assume the status of “gaffe,” because whatever she actually said, ”if you’re explaining, you’re losing.”

This is interesting, however, not because of what it means for this race (“gaffes” rarely matter much), but rather because it goes to what the whole battle over the CBO report is really about.

Some conservatives — and a few GOP officials, like Paul Ryan — have engaged what the CBO report actually said, arguing it confirms their argument that the safety net reduces the incentive to work and creates dependency. Whatever you think of that claim — which Paul Krugman took on today — it is at least consistent with what the report found. And this is a legitimate argument to have.

But how many Republican candidates and operatives, in the context of political campaigns, will overtly make that Ryan argument? Many have steered clear of it, instead claiming the report found that Obamacare will kill jobs – hewing to the labor demand side of the equation, where big government is supposedly strangling jobs and inflicting unemployment on victimized workers. That’s because making the Ryan case – that those who are benefitting from Obamacare (by gaining coverage where they lacked it or by finding work no longer linked to insurance) are letting their work ethic be diminished — strays perilously close to “free stuff” and “47 percent” turf.

This latest dust-up gets to the core of this. As Krugman puts it, the core argument for Obamacare, in the context of the fight over the CBO report, is that strengthening the social safety net empowers people and increases dignity and freedom.  Sink, similarly, argued that the ACA, by providing health care and the increased economic security that goes along with it, has given people “more freedom and more choice in life.” Sink’s opponent, Republican David Jolly, would repeal all of that entirely. Surely many Republicans have a principled disagreement with Sink — they genuinely believe conferring economic flexibility this way is worse for the people themselves because it saps their work ethic and worse for the country because it unfairly redistributes wealth from the top down.

But if they are going to engage Sink’s actual argument — which is being made by multiple Dems across the country – they’ll have to say that more directly. And it’s hard to do this without coming out openly for “job lock.”

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