The Best Of The Bad Reporting On Obamacare, The CBO And Jobs

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February 4, 2014 4:37 p.m.

The Congressional Budget Office issued a new report Tuesday on the federal budget deficit, Obamacare and jobs — and Official Washington exploded.

It all centered on one line about how the health care reform law would affect employment. CBO actually said that Americans would choose to work less, for various reasons, and that if you translated the fewer hours worked into full-time jobs, it would equal 2.5 million by 2024 (2.3 million by 2021). It didn’t say that Obamacare would cost the country 2.5 million jobs, but Republicans said so anyway.

But it wasn’t just the GOP, which had a political incentive to take advantage of economic jargon. It was the political press as well. They either misrepresented what the report said — or shrugged off the actual facts, opting instead to speculate on what the political spin would mean for the horse race.

The Fox News splash on Tuesday afternoon typified the coverage on the right:

Other conservative outlets like the Daily Caller and the Washington Times peddled the same line.

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More mainstream publications largely didn’t misconstrue the numbers, but a conventional wisdom quickly developed about how good the news was for Republicans and how bad it was for Democrats — in line with how the GOP was spinning the news. Even the New York Times, the paper of record, fell into that narrative.

The paper wrote that the report is “providing Republican opponents of the law a powerful political weapon leading up to this year’s midterm elections.”

The Washington Post’s Fix imagined a Republican ad attacking vulnerable Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan (NC) over the report. He did note that “the CBO report is more complicated than my faux ad.” But it didn’t really matter.

“Republicans have made quite clear that they will do everything they can to make the 2014 election a referendum on Obamacare and, more broadly, President Obama. And this CBO report gives them a major arrow in that quiver,” he wrote.

Others took to Twitter to perpetuate that new conventional wisdom:

Politico delivered an apt summary of the day:

There’s a lot more fine print about what those numbers really mean, and whether the jobs were “lost.” But what matters politically is how they’ll look in attack ads. And in this election year, “2 million lost jobs” is a Republican ad maker’s dream.

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