Romney’s ‘job killer’ narrative: time for an X-ray

Some reporters are asking: Does Obamacare really destroy jobs?, which bills itself as Ohio’s channel for news, is one of the latest media outlets to casually pass along one of Mitt Romney’s favorite campaign messages—the one that blames Obamacare for “killing jobs.” ONN reporter Jim Heath, traveling with Romney on his campaign bus, sat down for a one-on-one with the presumptive nominee. Romney told Heath: “Get rid of Obamacare. It’s a cloud over small business and it’s keeping jobs from growing in this country.” He went on:

When you have three quarters of American small businesses responding to surveys saying that Obamacare is making it less likely for them to hire people, and when people need good jobs, you know we have to get rid of Obamacare.

Romney has been saying that for quite a while now, and on the stump his rivals for the GOP nomination sent out the same message, pinning some of the blame for the sour economy on health reform. In a March op-ed, Rick Santorum wrote that “Illinois has seen first-hand how ObamaCare kills jobs and hurts the manufacturing sector.” Santorum noted that John Deere and Caterpillar are both based in Illinois, and he claimed that compliance with Obamacare will cost each company more than $100 million. The rhetoric apparently plays well in Peoria, and media outlets like the Ohio news channel have been happy to pass it along—without any pushback about its veracity, thus allowing it to stand as factual without contextual evidence.

But signs of skepticism about the GOP’s claim have surfaced among some media types, who have expressed doubt that Obamacare equals job loss. Last week The Christian Science Monitor held a Q&A breakfast featuring Douglas Elmendorf, who heads the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), a pretty reputable source. Elmendorf told reporters, “We don’t think that the healthcare law is having a significant impact on the economy today. Elmendorf smashed an underpinning for the GOP job-killer claim: He said the Republicans use a CBO estimate that predicts that once the law is fully implemented, “it would reduce the amount of labor used in the economy by about a half a percent at the end of the decade.” But, Elmendorf said, “Most of that is people choosing not to work because they can obtain health insurance at an affordable price outside of the workforce.” Elmendorf seemed to be saying people would be leaving the workplace not because they were thrown out because of Obamacare, but for other reasons, and of their own choosing.

Meanwhile, Forbes staff writer Frederick Allen examined a study from the Urban Institute, which found no evidence that the Massachusetts reform law, the model for Obamacare, killed jobs.The study reported:

There is no evidence of a more pronounced decline in overall employment in Massachusetts than in the rest of the nation over the 2006-2010 period, nor is there evidence of a more pronounced decline among the small firms, industries, and workers, where such declines would be predicted if health reform had dampened economic growth in the state.

Brian Beutler over at Talking Points Memo also pointed to the Urban Institute study, arguing that Republicans “claim without evidence that coming rules that will apply to employers are creating regulatory uncertainty and dissuading businesses from hiring.” The fact that most provisions have yet to be implemented, Beutler wrote, “hasn’t stopped Republicans from attacking the Affordable Care Act as a job killer.”

When the House voted earlier this month to repeal a tax on makers of medical devices—which the health reform law calls for to help fund subsidies for the uninsured—Romney issued a statement saying, “We can’t afford policies that kill jobs and stifle innovation in one of America’s most dynamic industries.”

But there’s a back story here that needs to be part of future reportage.

As we’ve noted, insurers and employers are waging an all-out war to rid themselves of the taxes meant to pay for the subsidies at the heart of the health reform law, the money meant to help those who cannot afford health care to buy it. This includes not only a tax on medical devices, but a tax imposed on insurers, which they in turn are likely to pass on to employers in the form of higher premiums. This tax on insurers is also aimed at funding subsidies.

Obamacare’s enemies, which include the National Federation of Independent Business, have their own studies that they where cite to bolster their claims.
The Stop the Hit campaign website notes that the tax will be a “hit on job creation” and translates into restrictions on the ability of businesses “to grow and create jobs.”

So we have a situation with competing studies that offer different conclusions. What’s a reporter to do? Read them all, I say, and weigh the quality of the evidence, credibility of the sponsors, and exactly what questions were asked. And beware of presenting false equivalence. On this one, though, even some he-said/she-said dueling conclusions, are better than what ONNtv did—letting a candidate’s rhetoric stand on its own.

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Trudy Lieberman is a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR's healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. She also blogs for Health News Review. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman. Tags: , , , ,