By MARSHA MERCER
The latest skirmish in the Capitol over the Affordable Care Act – the false claim that it would force 2.3 million people onto the jobless rolls -- reveals more about the sorry state of our politics than a search for sound policy. That’s a shame.
Most congressional Democrats, spooked by the botched rollout of insurance exchanges, distance themselves from the unpopular law. They cling to the rosy view that one day it will be as popular as Medicare – and can only hope voters warm to it by the midterm elections.
Congressional Republicans have such animosity for Obamacare that they look for the dark side of every study or report. They disavow the very policies they once championed.
A few years ago, Republicans abandoned support for the individual mandate – the requirement that everyone have health insurance – even though it was a Republican idea, endorsed by the conservative Heritage Foundation. It became a horrible idea once President Barack Obama adopted it.
This week, the health law’s haters were quick to tweet that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office had projected that the law would cost 2.3 million jobs over 10 years. The report said no such thing.
The study, “The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2014 to 2024,” does estimate an employment reduction of 2.3 million people by 2024 -- due not to employer layoffs but to employee choice.
Some Americans have long been tied to jobs because they couldn’t obtain or couldn’t afford health insurance on their own, a phenomenon called “job lock.” Now, the near-universal availability of health insurance under the law means no one has to stay in a job because of benefits. People have options. They can quit, reduce their work hours, retire early or go into business for themselves.
Being handed a pink slip is one thing, saying “take this job and shove it” quite another, as Douglas Elmendorf, CBO director, explained Wednesday at a hearing of the House Budget Committee:
“The reason that we don’t use the term `lost jobs’ is because there is a critical difference between people who would like to work and can’t find a job – or have a job that was lost for reasons beyond their control – and people who choose not to work.
“If somebody comes up to you and says, ‘Well the boss said I’m being laid off because we don’t have enough business to pay me,’ that person feels bad about that and we sympathize with them…If somebody comes up to you and says, `I’ve decided to retire or I’ve decided to stay home and spend more time with my family or spend more time doing my hobby,’ they don’t feel bad about it – they feel good about it. And we don’t sympathize. We say congratulations,” Elmendorf said.
Job seekers will snap up the jobs those people leave behind, he said, and the overall unemployment rate is projected to decline.
Under the health law, low- and moderate-income people can get immediate tax credits to pay for insurance. The tax credits phase out with higher income and may provide a disincentive for some workers to put in more hours, CBO says.
Critics claim that the law encourages slackers, and that’s terrible policy. They didn’t always think so.
In 2008, Republican presidential candidate John McCain proposed a health care plan that would have ended job lock. Heritage Foundation analysts Robert E. Moffitt and Nina Owcharenko praised the plan.
“Individuals would no longer feel obligated to stay with their employers simply because they need to keep their employer-based insurance. If the worker lost a job, changed jobs or retired early, he or she could buy an insurance policy and offset its cost with the McCain health care tax credit,” they wrote.
In the Budget Committee hearing, Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the top Democrat on the committee, cited Heritage’s previous support.
“Well, the Affordable Care Act does end that job lock. It allows Americans to choose to spend more time with their family or pursue their dreams. And that is not a bad thing; it's a good thing,” he said.
I agree. Mobility in the workplace was good when McCain proposed it, and it’s good now.
©2014 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.