File this under: “Liberal media? What liberal media?”
I doubt the Congressional Budget Office expected The Budget and Economic Outlook 2014 to 2024 to be front-page news. They put out these ten-year look-aheads every six months or so, and they don’t usually get much reaction.
But say some news outlets decided to pay attention. You might expect — the CBO probably expected — reporters to focus on the summary. After all, that’s why people write summaries to 182-page government reports with eight appendices. In particular, you might expect articles to focus on the summary’s first line:
The federal budget deficit has fallen sharply during the past few years, and it is on a path to decline further this year and next year.
That sounds like a big deal. Very Serious People have been telling us for years (or more accurately, since Inauguration Day 2009, when they suddenly stopped believing Dick Cheney’s “deficits don’t matter” maxim) that the deficit is going to destroy our entire society. We’re going to turn into Greece, locusts will devour our fields, toads will rain from the sky, and so forth. So the fact that this situation is rapidly improving ought to get the VSPs attention.
The numbers are striking: The combined Bush/Obama budget of FY 2009 (October, 2008 to October 2009) had a $1.4 trillion deficit. (Bush’s first proposal for a FY2009 budget had an $407 billion deficit, which had grown to a projected $1.2 trillion by the time Obama took office, due to the economic collapse at the end of Bush’s term. Obama’s stimulus pushed the deficit the final $200 billion on its way to creating 3.3 million jobs, according to a previous CBO study.) FY 2013 ended in October with a $680 billion deficit, and the CBO projects deficits of $514 billion in FY2014 and $478 billion in FY2015.
At that level, this year’s deficit would equal 3.0 percent of the nation’s economic output, or gross domestic product (GDP)—close to the average percentage of GDP seen during the past 40 years.
So unless you think we’ve been in a Deficit Emergency for the past 40 years, we’re not going to be in one this year or next.
But that’s not what caught everybody’s attention. Instead of looking to the CBO’s summary for the story, the media (led by the right-wing media) looked to Appendix C “Labor Market Effects of the Affordable Care Act: Updated Estimates”. Because, you know, appendices of government reports are always so fascinating, especially the third appendix.
But even if you only read the appendices, you still have some choice about what the story is. Appendix B, for example, says:
CBO and JCT [Joint Committee on Taxation] estimate that the insurance coverage provisions of the ACA will markedly increase the number of nonelderly people who have health insurance—by about 13 million in 2014, 20 million in 2015, and 25 million in each of the subsequent years through 2024 (see Table B-2).
So despite all the scary (and debunked) headlines about cancelled policies and increased premiums, the ACA will make substantial progress on its main goal: Millions more people will have health insurance.
But the cost of that coverage will explode the deficit, right? Well, this report reiterated a previous conclusion:
Considering all of the coverage provisions and the other provisions together, CBO and JCT estimated in July 2012 (the most recent comprehensive estimates) that the total effect of the ACA would be to reduce federal deficits.
But maybe you’re worried about the “insurance company bailout” Republicans have been denouncing, which the rest of the world calls “risk corridors”. If so, you’d focus on this part of Appendix B:
CBO now projects that, over the 2015–2024 period, risk corridor payments from the federal government to health insurers will total $8 billion and the corresponding collections from insurers will amount to $16 billion, yielding net savings for the federal government of $8 billion.
So the “bailout” is a re-insurance plan that the government expects to make an $8 billion profit on.
But anyway, what does Appendix C say?
CBO estimates that the ACA will reduce the total number of hours worked, on net, by about 1.5 percent to 2.0 percent during the period from 2017 to 2024, almost entirely because workers will choose to supply less labor … The reduction in CBO’s projections of hours worked represents a decline in the number of full-time-equivalent workers of about 2.0 million in 2017, rising to about 2.5 million in 2024.
It’s not hard for me to imagine why this might happen: My wife is a (currently healthy) over-55 two-time cancer survivor, and prior to ObamaCare she couldn’t possibly have gotten insurance on the individual market at any reasonable rate. She happens to like her job, but many people in similar situations might decide to retire early (now that they have that option) rather than hang on until Medicare covers them. Similarly, my college roommate has been frozen into his job for the last couple decades, because his son was born with major medical problems that a new employer’s insurance company might write off as a pre-existing condition. Other people might prefer to work part-time, but have been hanging on to full-time jobs for fear of losing their health coverage. Or maybe extended Medicaid or S-CHIP coverage or an ObamaCare subsidy could shift the balance in a struggling household towards having one parent stay home with the kids.
That’s the kind of thing the CBO is talking about: “workers … choose to supply less labor”. It’s a good kind of thing.
So naturally it got covered like this by the conservative media:
Washington Times: ObamaCare will push 2 million workers out of labor market: CBO
National Review: The CBO just nuked ObamaCare
And not much differently by the mainstream media:
And even a 180-degree false CNBC headline: CBO says ObamaCare will add to deficit, create reluctant work force — later corrected to allow that ObamaCare “may not add to federal deficit” rather than the accurate “the total effect of the ACA would be to reduce federal deficits”.
CBO director Paul Elmendorf testified before Congress Wednesday morning, and set the record straight. The CBO believes that ObamaCare will increase demand for labor over the next few years, creating jobs rather than killing them.
When reporters began to understand that they’d been scammed into repeating Republican talking points, many of them blamed the Obama administration. National Journal‘s headline: “The White House is Still Terrible at Explaining ObamaCare“. You see, it’s not up to reporters to check facts and inform their readers rather than mislead them. How can they be expected to print the truth when no one spoon-feeds the story to them properly? And why didn’t the White House (which doesn’t control the CBO) anticipate the report, anticipate that Appendix C would be the story, and anticipate that Republicans would twist its statements into pretzels? Shouldn’t they have been prepared for this?
That’s your liberal media in action.