In our current age of spin and counter-spin, there is no contortion too great for a politician to attempt. On occasion, however, the threads of one story become entangled with another in a manner that should deeply embarrass, if the media were sharp enough to catch it.
This happened last week in response to the Congressional Budget Office's (CBO) bombshell report on how Obamacare incentives could reduce the size of the labor force by more than two million workers by 2017. While the report did not reflect the Republican spin (that the law will cause employers to kill jobs - -it will, but for reasons not detailed in the report), the reaction of the White House and congressional Democrats set a new mark in rhetorical boldness. In the ultimate act of making lemonade from lemons, they described the findings as unabashed good news. But to do so, they had to contradict their previously expressed views on unemployment insurance.
Last week, White House press secretary Jay Carney said that the low cost of Obamacare health insurance will give workers the flexibility to leave the work force if they choose. He agreed with the CBO's opinion that many individuals work at jobs that they don't really value solely because the positions provide health insurance. So, whereas Obama once said, "If you like your health care plan you can keep it," he is now saying, "If you don't like your job, you can leave it."
The subsidies built into Obamacare are exceptional in their severity. As has been noted by many observers, even relatively small increases in income can result in substantial losses in federal subsidies. With health care costs eating up increasingly large portions of personal incomes, it is easy to see why health care subsidies could be the deciding factor for many people to stay home.
But this dynamic is the opposite of what the President and his allies are arguing in the ongoing debate about extending unemployment benefits. Republicans have pointed out that people are discouraged from taking marginal jobs because weekly government checks represent a more attractive option. The White House has responded with deep derision, with the President himself saying that he never met a single American who would prefer a check from the government to a check from an employer. (Perhaps he should get out more?)