When the CBO report dropped, the insta-media-spin immediately echoed Republican spin on both on the substance and the politics of its findings. News orgs echoed the false claim that the report said Obamacare would kill two million jobs — and even after that had been corrected, they continued to insist the report would nonetheless be politically devastating for Dems.
But here’s something to keep an eye on going forward: How many Republican operatives and candidates are attacking Dems over what the report actually found (that Obamacare will reduce the incentive to work), and how many continue to use the falsified version (that Obamacare will kill two million jobs)?
Some GOP operatives and candidates continue to resort to the latter, or are carefully fudging what it is they’re actually saying, which suggests they don’t want a political debate over the implications of the CBO’s actual findings. Many prefer for the debate to remain on labor demand turf — where Big Bad Obamacare regulations are inflicting job loss on victimized workers — and don’t want an argument over whether helping provide health coverage to those who can’t afford it is a bad thing because it will discourage work. This drifts perilously close to “free stuff” and “47 percent” turf.
To be clear, some Republicans, and some conservative wonky types, have directly engaged what the report actually found, to buttress their larger argument that the safety net fosters dependency and discourages work, harming the economy. Paul Ryan says Obamacare is “inducing a person not to work who is on the low-income scale, not to get on the ladder of life, to begin working, getting the dignity of work, getting more opportunities, rising their income, joining the middle class, this means fewer people will do that.”
But this is not a good political argument. For one thing, as Jonathan Chait explains, it is entirely off point in that it misstates who exactly is finding their incentive to work reduced:
Ryan is completely wrong about the class of people facing this reduced-work incentive. It’s not workers who are set to “begin working” and “get on the ladder of life” who face the Obamacare phase-out. That hits much higher up the income ladder — $94,000 a year for a family of four. A person facing this subsidy cutoff may work fewer hours, or even quit altogether, but he or she would be living off his or her own savings or a spouse’s income. There’s no Obamacare “dole,” in the sense of income that substitutes for work, unless conservatives imagine Medicaid patients clothing themselves in free hospital gowns and feeding their children all the waiting room lollipops they can eat.
Meanwhile, Paul Krugman demonstrates there’s good reason to question whether people escaping “job lock” is even all that bad for the economy to begin with, and Brian Beutler shows that adopting this argument only hamstrings Republicans from offering their own health reform alternatives.
Beyond this, though, you can see evidence that Republicans know the argument Ryan makes is not a winning one because many of them are not making it, and are instead making a different argument that requires the CBO report’s findings to be distorted to various degrees.
For instance, Republicans are using the CBO report to attack Senator Mark Begich as follows: “BegichCare is a job killer.” The GOP ad against Senator Kay Hagan asks: “How many workers will have to lose their jobs?” Both falsely emphasize a labor demand point, arguing Obamacare will inflict job loss on workers. John Boehner claims the law will “drive” millions out of the labor force, which is more careful but still shades towards claiming Obamacare is forcing a labor-related outcome.
Multiple other officials have made similar arguments, and even at their most cautious, they endeavor to convey the impression that this isn’t about voluntary behavior on the part of workers, but rather about people being victimized by Obamacare-fueled job loss.
Beyond this, Republicans showed their reluctance to have the argument over the safety net fostering dependency during the debate over unemployment insurance. Remember how many took care to emphasize that their opposition to extending UI was rooted in fiscal responsibility?
Many political reporters have claimed the CBO report will damage Dems even if it didn’t find what many said it did at the outset. The better way to put this is that lies about what the CBO report found will damage Dems. That very well may prove true. But it’s also worth noting the flip-side of this: The political argument over CBO’s actual findings — over whether subsidizing health coverage for those who lack it is good because it will foster economic security and hence flexibility, or bad because it will lull people into dependency and squelch their ambition to work hard — is not one many Republicans want, even though many firmly believe the latter to be true.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Keep an eye on what Republicans actually say about the report going forward. That will be the tell.