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A Myth Is Born

Yesterday, again at the vet’s (this time for Ambrose, the St. Bernard), I saw something on the CNN ticker about a new Congressional Budget Office report on the Affordable Care Act. It said something about jobs. I was distracted but could sense this did not bode well.

By the time I sat down to lunch at two in the afternoon, I decided to check in and see what was being said. I flipped to Fox News where Stuart Varney was repeating the charge that the ACA is a “jobs killer” and that this new CBO report proved it. “More than 2 millions jobs will be lost because of Obamacare,” he intoned. By evening, Erin Burnett on CNN was repeating the line about the CBO report indicating the ACA would cost more than 2 million jobs over ten years. A myth had been born.

The CBO report did not, repeat did not, indicate than 2.5 millions jobs would be lost over ten years as a result of the ACA. The CBO did indicate that over ten years, some 2.5 million people would leave the work force because they would now be able to get health insurance through the exchanges set up under the ACA with subsidies to off-set the cost. The difference between the two claims is enormous and the episode demonstrates the degree to which so-called analysts on cable news are really just purveyors of agitprop.

Let’s put the statement differently and more accurately: The CBO indicated that, at long last, people who did not want to work, for whatever reasons, but felt that they had to continue to work in order to maintain their health insurance, will now be able to make the choice to leave their job and their employer-sponsored health care because they have a different option. Why is this a problem? Who are these people?

I can think of a bunch of reasons why people would want to stop working. They might be a bank teller who has saved enough to retire early, or made a windfall in the real estate market. They may be a professor who has a newborn with whom they wish to spend more time. She may work at a hospital but have a special needs’ child who requires more parental attention. He may be a waiter who has a bad back and worry that his job at the restaurant makes his back worse. None of these people will lose their jobs. And, all of these people, presumably, will be replaced by other workers who are currently not employed. The bank will still need tellers, the college will still need professors, the hospital will still need nurses and the restaurant will still need waiters. No jobs are being lost.

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Is it that hard to believe that a quarter of a million Americans per year find themselves clinging to a job they would like to leave, but stick with it because they see no other method of securing health insurance for themselves and their families? I am surprised the number is so low.

My old pal Gene Sperling found the correct analogy. Those who would cite this report to indict the ACA presumably thought Social Security was a bad thing because some many elderly people left the workforce when they started getting Social Security. Before Social Security, the elderly worked or else they could not put food on the table, not because they wanted to. I know the analogy is not exact, but it is close, and it is certainly less deceitful than the “Obamacare killing jobs” myth that was born yesterday.

At one point last night, CNN was focusing on the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. On MSNBC, they were airing their umpteenth report on Governor Chris Christie’s “BridgeGate.” And, on Fox, they were discussing Benghazi. I said to my housemate: All three networks are focused on addiction at the same time. I was most disappointed in MSNBC. They should have been pushing back against the “job killing” myth but, instead, just couldn’t get enough of trashing Christie. I fear that in the forthcoming midterms, many Democratic candidates will listen to their pollsters and choose not to defend their vote for the ACA, so that they only people talking about it will be conservative Republicans who are trashing it. That is a recipe for disaster. In the event, the recipe was tested in 2010 and the Democrats botched it then. But, this is how campaigns work: Pollsters tell the candidates to shy away from any issue that does not poll favorably. Candidates listen to their pollsters. Issues are defined by their opponents. The candidates get shellacked. The pollsters and other campaign consultants blame “the electoral environment,” take a vacation and come back for the next election as if they had no part in the previous debacle.

Myths matter. Yesterday, we all got to witness one being created in record time. It was not fun to watch.

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July 18-31, 2014

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