- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The White House and congressional Democrats are trying to limit the fallout from the politically damaging conclusion in a Congressional Budget Office report that the Obamacare entitlement creates a major incentive for some people not to work.

While some critics focused on a finding by the CBO that Obamacare will result in 2.5 million fewer workers over a decade, conservatives said the bigger fundamental issue highlighted in the report is one familiar to the welfare state — that taxpayer-funded government subsidies provide disincentives for full-time work.

“People used to be stuck in jobs because they needed the health insurance,” said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a practicing physician and a specialist on health care policy at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute. “Now they’re going to be prevented from taking jobs because they need the subsidies.”

The CBO forecast continued to reverberate across Capitol Hill on multiple issues. The nonpartisan budget agency’s prediction that the U.S. jobless rate likely will stay above 6 percent through 2016 was revealed as Senate Democrats were preparing a push for another extension of benefits to the long-term unemployed, raising the prospect that the government will face much higher benefit costs over the coming years.

The Senate is expected to stage a test vote Thursday on extending the long-term jobless benefits.

Reviving the argument over the perils of an entitlement program in Obamacare is the last thing Democrats want in this election year, when they were already contending with the public’s anger over Obamacare’s botched rollout and reports of canceled insurance policies.

President Obama, who has been huddling with congressional Democrats about election strategy this week, encountered fresh concern during a meeting at the White House with lawmakers Tuesday when Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, New Hampshire Democrat, told the president that he should fire someone over the mistakes.

Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska and some other Democrats don’t want Mr. Obama to appear with them on the campaign trail. Mr. Begich said after the president’s State of the Union address, “I don’t need him campaigning for me — I need him to change some of his policies.”

Asked whether many Democratic incumbents are avoiding the president, White House press secretary Jay Carney replied Wednesday, “The president is assisting Democrats in ways that they ask him to and, obviously, ways that he can as president.”

Senate Democrats met with Mr. Obama on Wednesday at Nationals Park as part of their annual issues retreat and also got a pep talk from former President Bill Clinton. The president has often relied on Mr. Clinton, who remains popular in states where Mr. Obama is a political liability, to explain the benefits of Obamacare to audiences in easy-to-understand terms.

As Democrats gear up for the November elections, the public’s unhappiness with the health care law remains high. A Gallup survey released this week found that 51 percent of Americans disapprove of the law and 41 percent approve of it.

Most Americans in the Gallup poll said they believe the law has had no effect (64 percent) or a harmful effect (19 percent) on their families. Only 24 percent of those polled said they believe that in the long run, the law will improve their families’ health care situations.

The CBO report noted that the health care law’s insurance subsidies are gradually taken away as income rises, “creating an implicit tax on additional earnings.” Dr. Gottlieb said that means some middle-class and lower-income people will decide that the government subsidies are more attractive than working more and paying higher taxes.

“They’re going to lose more in subsidies than it’s worth what they’re making in income,” he said. “So it remakes the whole wage-labor relationship, and that’s what I think CBO is starting to recognize. We’ve never subsidized the middle class like this. This is going to have a much different effect on the labor force than anything we’ve ever done.”

Mr. Carney argued Wednesday that the law is providing consumers with more choices, not a disincentive to work.

“The [Affordable Care Act] is benefiting our economy; it’s providing access to health insurance to millions of people who didn’t have it, and is giving families across the country and individuals across the country the freedom and choice and opportunity that they lacked before it passed,” Mr. Carney said.

But partisans on both sides increasingly are looking at the potential for a battle in the midterm elections over the growth of entitlements.

“The headline is awful [for Democrats],” Dr. Gottlieb said. “And I think the spin from the White House that they’re giving people more discretion back is a very hard argument to make.”

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