CBO Responds to Obamacare Controversy

Anti-Obamacare protesters wear masks of U.S. President Barack Obama and Grim Reaper as they demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court June 28, 2012 in Washington, D.C.
National Journal
Catherine Hollander
Feb. 10, 2014, 12:05 p.m.

The non­par­tis­an Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice was heard all over Wash­ing­ton last week when it re­leased its up­dated budget and eco­nom­ic out­look. Now, the of­fice is at­tempt­ing to be un­der­stood.

CBO on Monday pos­ted a “Fre­quently Asked Ques­tions” doc­u­ment aimed at clear­ing up the out­look’s most con­tro­ver­sial con­clu­sion, an es­tim­ate that Obama­care would re­duce the num­ber of hours worked by the equi­val­ent of 2.5 mil­lion full-time work­ers in 2024.

“That ana­lys­is has at­trac­ted a great deal of at­ten­tion and raised sev­er­al ques­tions,” the budget of­fice said dryly in a blog post at­trib­uted to its dir­ect­or, Douglas El­men­d­orf. Last week, con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans had seized on the fig­ures as evid­ence the Af­ford­able Care Act was the job-killer they al­ways ar­gued it was. A num­ber of health care wonks went in­to over­drive to ex­plain why that was an over­sim­pli­fic­a­tion of CBO’s find­ings.

Will 2.5 mil­lion people lose their jobs in 10 years, thanks to the ACA? “We would not de­scribe our es­tim­ates in that way,” El­men­d­orf wrote Monday.

It’s a mat­ter of choice, he said. “Be­cause the longer-term re­duc­tion in work is ex­pec­ted to come al­most en­tirely from a de­cline in the amount of labor that work­ers choose to sup­ply in re­sponse to the changes in their in­cent­ives, we do not think it is ac­cur­ate to say that the re­duc­tion stems from people ‘los­ing’ their jobs,” El­men­d­orf wrote. Wheth­er or not people choos­ing to work less is be­ne­fi­cial to so­ci­ety or the eco­nomy more broadly “is a mat­ter of judg­ment,” he said.

The CBO dir­ect­or re­it­er­ated the un­cer­tainty in­her­ent in all of the budget of­fice’s es­tim­ates. The latest es­tim­ate of the im­pact of the Af­ford­able Care Act on the work­force is just as likely to be too large as it is to be too small, he said.

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