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Why both parties think the CBO just proved them right on ObamaCare
Hope you're ready for some spin
The victors.
The victors. (Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)
T

he nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office on Tuesday released its annual budget report. Depending on your politics, it was either a vindication of ObamaCare, or a blistering case against it.

So what gives?

The report finds that ObamaCare will result in 2 million fewer American jobs by 2017, three times higher than the CBO's previous projection. That figure is projected to increase to 2.5 million by 2024.

Broadly speaking, that affirms what Republicans have claimed all along about ObamaCare costing the economy jobs. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement that the "middle class is getting squeezed in this economy, and this CBO report confirms that ObamaCare is making it worse."

With ObamaCare sure to factor prominently in the 2014 midterms, that translates into an easy way for the GOP to attack Democrats who support the health-care law.

However, the report doesn't exactly paint ObamaCare as a "job killer," the GOP's strongest accusation against it. Rather, the CBO estimates the law will shrink the labor supply — resulting in fewer net jobs per the agency's scoring — as more people use ObamaCare's perks to retire earlier or work fewer hours.

Before ObamaCare, Americans typically got insurance through their employers. But the availability of new subsidies under the law will make it easier to obtain coverage solo. Hence, the CBO says the projected job reduction "stems almost entirely from a net decline in the amount of labor that workers choose to supply, rather than from a net drop in businesses' demand for labor."

So it's not that ObamaCare is so burdensome that it will kill millions of jobs; people will just quit or work less.

Here's the Washington Post's Sarah Kliff with more on that:

This is the flip side of reducing what health wonks call "job lock:" when people stick around in their jobs solely because they need the health insurance that the employer provides. The health-care law takes off that lock in really significant ways, by ending pre-existing conditions and subsidizing low-income buyers on the individual market. When workers have that crucial link between employment and coverage broken, the CBO thinks they're going to work significantly less. [The Washington Post]

That, proponents say, is a good thing. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney pushed back on the "job-killing" claim, saying that "CBO's findings are not driven by an assumption that [the Affordable Care Act] will lead employers to eliminate jobs or reduce hours."

"Americans would no longer be trapped in a job just to provide coverage for their families," he added.

The full picture is a little more complicated, as Business Insider's Josh Barro explains in great detail here. But the general idea on the jobs picture is still the same: the CBO believes ObamaCare will trim the labor supply, but in ways the law's supporters think are actually beneficial.

Elsewhere, the report estimates that 6 million people will enroll in the health-care exchanges, while 8 million will sign up for Medicaid; each estimate is 1 million below the administration's old projections. Again, this could be spun as either a sign of failure or success.

To critics, the news means ObamaCare will fall short of its own goals. However, that's not too big of a miss, and given the federal exchange's horrible debut — which the CBO blames for the shortfall — it's better than anyone would have expected a few months ago. Plus, the state and federal exchanges are finally humming along, and the CBO estimates enrollments will eventually catch up.

Then there's the risk-adjustments pieces of ObamaCare, which Republicans claim are a secret government bailout of the insurance industry. The report disagrees in an an unequivocal bit of good news for Democrats, finding that insurance companies will receive about $8 billion — but then pay back double, or $16 billion.

But the spin that matters most will be what resonates with voters. And on that front, Republicans probably have the much easier argument: "ObamaCare means 2 million fewer jobs, according to the nonpartisan CBO" versus "ObamaCare 2 million fewer jobs we don't need, because economics is complicated."

Jon Terbush is a staff writer for TheWeek.com covering politics, sports, and other things he finds interesting. He has previously written for Talking Points Memo, Raw Story, and Business Insider.

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