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.