February 6th, 2014
Inspired by New fuel for the health-law fight (Zach Goldfarb and Amy Goldstein, Washington Post 2/05/14 A1), Jobs and the health law: Clearing up the confusion (Glenn Kessler 2/06/14 page A4), CBO director: Health law will boost employment (William Branigin, Washington Post 2/06/14 page A4), The Obamacare Retirement Plan (Clive Crook, Bloomberg 2/05/14), and today’s Wonkbook. Republicans and the Right-Wing Echo Chamber are up in arms about the CBO’s estimate that access to affordable healthcare will allow the equivalent of two million people to voluntarily leave jobs that they were just holding on to for the healthcare.
“Non-partisan CBO report admits #ObamaCare is hurting the economy, will cost 2.5 millions jobs. http://nrcc.me/1doOOA8” – National Republican Congressional Committee tweet “Obamacare will push 2 million workers out of labor market: CBO.” – Washington Times headline “CBO: Obamacare will kill 2.5-million jobs.” – Breitbart.com headline “The CBO’s latest report confirms what Republicans have been saying for years now. Under Obamacare, millions of hardworking Americans will lose their jobs.” – Eric Cantor press release “As a taxpayer, I’m more than happy to finance a subsidy that guarantees access to decent health care for all. I’m not so happy to subsidize your early retirement or improved work-life balance. Health care is, or should be, a basic entitlement. Your lifestyle choices aren’t.” — Clive Crook
Access to affordable insurance
Will lead to a 1% reduction in voluntary employment,
Which will simultaneously increase
People’s choices and enjoyment.
This result disparage
They should repeal Social Security,
Medicare, and Marriage.
Each of those
Results in many more millions not working.
Why are Republicans encouraging
All of that shirking?
Social Security and Medicare
Allow forty million people to stay retired.
Why shouldn’t they to work
And why do married stay-at-home moms
Get a lower tax rate?
Why should they be subsidized to stay home
And more tax deductions create?
(That child-tax deduction
Must also go
It encourages mothers
to stay home, you know.)
And Sundays off?
That should make Repubs even more mad.
When it comes to reducing labor hours,
It’s more than 10 times as bad.
Why do Republicans
Take such affront
To people working less or leaving jobs
They don’t need or want?
Anyway, doesn’t that free those jobs up
For others to take?
Why do Republicans want
Those people to forsake?
If you don’t need to work,
Repubs want to make you.
If you have a chance at a job,
Repubs want to take it from you.
I’m beginning to see
A pattern forming,
And it’s not just the GOP’s penchant
What is this pattern?
Maybe you to have sensed it:
If it make people’s lives better,
Republicans are against it.
Here’s your theme music, Ol’ Man River, as sung by the great Paul Robeson in the 1936 movie-musical Showboat. Does the right-wing want to go back to making people work against their will until they’ve worked themselves to death? There’s a name for that.
Here’s one Republican who did get the numbers right, and described their meaning honestly. When CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf testified before the House Budget Committee, Rep. Paul Ryan stated: “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, to the equivalent of 2.5 million jobs in 2024 and as a result that lower workforce participation rate that less labor supplied lowers economic growth?” Thank you for that, Representative Ryan.
In response to Clive Crook in Bloomberg: thank you for at least addressing the issue honestly as opposed to the deliberately dishonest approach that many on the right have take, but you are not subsidizing anyone’s “lifestyle choices.” In many cases, you aren’t subsidizing anyone at all. Take, for example, a married couple with young children. Lets say the husband is self-employed and makes $75K/year. The wife works a regular full-time job making $50K per year, but also getting health insurance. Before Obamacare, they couldn’t afford for her to quit her job or go part-time so she could stay home with their young kids, because they couldn’t afford to lose the health insurance. Now, she can stay at home for a few years until the kids go to school, and they can buy an affordable individual policy on the exchange, without a subsidy. But even if the husband were making less and they got a small subsidy, it’s likely that that subsidy would still be less than the taxes they’re paying on the husband’s salary. So, you are not subsidizing anyone.
And what if you were? What would be so bad about that? And how would that be different than the millions of ways in which our tax code allocates tax breaks in order to encourage socially desirable behavior, like retirement savings and home ownership? We have a free-market based economy, and our tax system works within that context by establishing broad parameters, and then letting people do what’s best for themselves based on those parameters. Would you instead require a young mother to get government approval to quit her job, or have some bureaucrat decide whether that family “deserved” the subsidy that she’s otherwise completely eligible for? And what if we had a system like in the United Kingdom, where healthcare is free? Would you say that’s an unfair subsidy to families who choose to have one parent stay at home, or to a person who retires early? And what about Social Security, which currently pays a 75% benefit to people who retire early? Why should you subsidize that “life-style choice.”
My advice to you, Clive: Don’t get so hung up with what it is that you’re “subsidizing.” The government and society (not you) are subsizing a benefit that is universally available, based on income. What people then do with that benefit is their choice. That’s called freedom.
In fairness, Mr. Crooks broader point is a reasonable one: “The larger point is that a shrinking labor force is a problem regardless of the cause, because the bills still need to be paid. The ACA isn’t that badly designed from a work-reduction point of view, and any scheme that guarantees access to health insurance regardless of income will discourage work to some degree. That doesn’t make discouraging work a good thing. ACA is a good policy despite the fact that it will discourage work to some extent. Liberals, is that so hard to say?” That is at least much more honest than most conservative commentators, who were against job lock before they were for it (read Republicans Wanted To Free Workers From Bad Jobs Until Obamacare Did It for more about that). I also found conservative blogger Ross Douthat’s view ironic: “The bigger the effect, the more likely that the people dropping out aren’t just, say, parents cutting hours to spend more time at home while the other spouse works full time, but people we should want to be attached to the workforce, for their own long-term good and the good of the economy as well.” What’s that, Mr. Douthat? I thought it was liberals who tried to get people to do things “for their own long-term good,” while conservatives hated that nanny-state stuff and were in favor of giving people the choice of doing what they think is best for themselves (except for reproductive rights, of course).
A final, more general point: Why is everyone on the right getting so upset that people will voluntarily leave jobs they don’t want? Doesn’t that make those jobs available for others who actually want and need them?