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The Easy Lie

February 6th, 2014

Conservatives hardly need much excuse to baldly distort reality so as to create a completely false meme. Look at the Obamacare “Death Panels,” for example: a minor advisor who had written a medical ethics paper more than a decade earlier along with a now-defunct allowance in the program to provide counseling for the elderly was all that they needed to begin trumpeting the ludicrous idea that Obamacare would empower federal bureaucrats to condemn grandma to an early demise.

Other claims they falsely make are more convincing because they are not so ludicrous, and more insidious because they take ten times longer to explain the truth which is ten times harder to understand. Take Darryl Issa’s quick remark on Bill Maher’s show last week, that most House seats that go unchallenged due to gerrymandering are Democratic ones. Which is a “true lie,” because the seats are more Democratic, but only because Republicans gerrymandered them that way. When you gerrymander, you don’t make incontestable seats for your own party; instead, you balance the makeup of your districts so your candidates can get something like 55% of the vote in as many districts as possible—and pack as many opposition voters as possible into as few districts as possible. If a district has 90% Democratic voters, there will be no challenger—but that’s not good for Democrats, as 35% of those voters could be in other districts making a difference. In a state with 20 districts where normally half the districts would go to each party, gerrymandering by the Republicans could lead to 14 or 15 “win by a comfortable margin” districts for the GOP, and maybe 3 or 4 over-the-top wins for the Democrats. So, Issa made it sound like Democrats were corrupt when actually his evidence points to Republican corruption. An easy lie.

This is what conservatives excel at. And now, due to a new report from the Congressional Budget Office, they have a whole new line of bovine fecal matter to sell.

The CBO report says on what is actually an advantageous effect of Obamacare. Currently, millions of American workers have to work to keep their insurance plans, lest they get kicked off and are uninsurable; alternately, many people with prohibitively expensive insurance must work extra hours to pay for it. Obamacare helps millions of Americans with these problems; so much so, that between 2017 and 2024, workers who would otherwise be forced to work in order to qualify for insurance or pay for health care will no longer be forced to work those hours, and may opt to work less. For example, someone now working 3 jobs for a total of 70 hours a week may drop one of those jobs because they don’t absolutely have to anymore. From page 119 of the report:

….For some people, the availability of exchange subsidies under the ACA will reduce incentives to work both through a substitution effect and through an income effect. The former arises because subsidies decline with rising income (and increase as income falls), thus making work less attractive. As a result, some people will choose not to work or will work less—thus substituting other activities for work. The income effect arises because subsidies increase available resources—similar to giving people greater income—thereby allowing some people to maintain the same standard of living while working less. The magnitude of the incentive to reduce labor supply thus depends on the size of the subsidies and the rate at which they are phased out.

Get that? It’s not about jobs being “cut” or “lost” or “destroyed”; it’s about people who are working more than is necessary just to be able to pay for decent health care. Richard Mayhew at Balloon Juice gives us three examples of people in these kinds of situations:

Jamaal is in his late fifties. He has qualified for a full pension from his union plus he has some money squirreled away in savings and a 401(K). If he retired tomorrow, he would be able to get an inflation protected full life annuity that would replace 70% of his current income and as soon as he is Social Security eligible, his income replacement would be in the mid-80s. He has three young grandkids, an interest in making furniture and a medical history that scares away insurance companies after they see the first page. He works and continues to damage his knees and his back for the health insurance. If he could get affordable health insurance that could bridge the gap between retirement and Medicare, retiring to be a full time granddad and a part time cabinet maker looks really good. PPACA allows him to get out of the labor market a year or two earlier than he thought he otherwise would have.

Sally works as a receptionist at a local theatre company. Her husband makes most of the money in the family as a highly skilled roadie for a variety of not quite indy bands. She works for the health insurance. The theatre pays 90% of the cost to cover her, but she has to pay the full cost of covering her husband. Covering her husband is basically half of her post-tax pay per month. She would like to have kids, she would like to go back to school but they can’t afford to go naked. PPACA allows her to get out of the labor market for a couple of years to go finsih her degree and have a kid while spending the equivilent of a week of her former salary a month for family coverage.

Bob lives in a Medicaid expansion state. He has two young kids. The older kid is going to kindergarten next fall and the younger one will be in kindergarten in 2016. His girlfriend is working full time as a shift leader at McDonalds and he works fifteen hours a week as a security guard. He recently qualified for Medicaid, the kids were always covered by CHIP, and his girlfriend is on a cost-sharing assistance Silver plan. The family is doing well enough right now, so when his boss offers him another 15 hours a week and the ability to get on the Bronze level plan at work, he declines as he would rather stay home and raise the kids.

In short, this is a good thing: people will not be forced to work when they do not need to or want to. Over the span of 7 years, it means a possible full-time equivalent of 2.3 million jobs being shed. Not lost, but shed by people who will no longer need the hours—and possibly opening up those hours to people looking for work but currently not finding it. The “full-time equivalent” part means, for example, hundreds of thousands of people will take earlier retirement, several hundred thousand more will leave jobs they don’t want but felt they had to keep, a million or two may drop their third part-time job, and several million more will opt to not work as many overtime hours to make ends meet. Not due to economic havoc, but because of economic freedom.

Some in the conservative sphere are trying to get around the outright distortion by creating slightly more tangential distortion: The Wall Street Journal, for example, vilifies liberals for what they cast as a choice of millions to become moochers:

The CBO essentially says that because ObamaCare’s means-tested subsidies phase out as cash income rises, some people will choose to stay poorer to keep earning benefits. Some of the giddier liberals even extol ObamaCare for “liberating” workers from the adult responsibility of earning a living.

The article goes on to slam liberals for this viewpoint which they repeatedly cast as more or less evil—but if you also read carefully, you will note that they never get around to actually explaining why it’s evil that millions of people will be able to have more comfortable lives because they can now afford health care by working hard instead of working themselves to death. Other news sources are fact-checking this and trying to give the facts as they are, but you know that enough people will be fooled so as to make it all worth it for the conservatives.

For the most part, they’re are acting like a kid on Christmas, squealing with joy. Obamacare kills millions of jobs! It’s a job-destroyer! We told you so!

Expect to see this all over the congressional race campaigns this year. Conservatives love the easy lie.

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  1. Troy
    February 6th, 2014 at 11:39 | #1

    “Conservatives love the easy lie”

    like I said, it’s all they got.



    US politics are as dysfunctional as Japan’s, for entirely different reasons I guess.

    Well, the now-imploded DPJ did have some parallel with the patsy, walk-over-me Democrat image (i.e. Carter) we all carry.

    AFAICT DPJ haplessly tried to rein in budgets and not attack the yen as it strengthened to 80, which was good for consumers I guess but more than kinda bad for exporters and domestic goods producers (farmers etc).

    Abe is all screw-that, let’s print and pork-barrel spend our way out of this!

    But when talking about Japan spending it’s very helpful to keep in mind that Japanese “pork” spending isn’t at anything of US gov’t spending.

    Not counting SSI and Medicare, the US spends $4.5T per year:


    or $36k per working age (25-54) person:


    (I don’t even see how this is possible but there it be)

    At the national level Japan spent around $400B last year (not counting interest and ‘social security’ which IIRC includes health care) . . . the big-ticket items were public works and defense ($50B each).

    $400B is $8000 per 25-54 in Japan. QUITE the difference!

    I was shocked when I first looked up how little Japan’s gov’t expense really was. Your fiscal problem is one of ineffective taxation, and the tax cuts the LDP handed out in the 1990s to stimulate the economy out of the bubble debt bust hangover recession.

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