All Star Panel: Can White House spin grim CBO prognosis on ObamaCare?

Reaction from the 'Special Report' All-Star panel


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," February 5, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


DOUGLAS ELMANDORF, CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE DIRECTOR: In order to encourage a sufficient number of people to buy an expensive product like health insurance, the subsidies are fairly large in dollar terms. By providing a subsidy, these people are better off, but they do have less of an intensive to work.

REP. PAUL RYAN, R - WI: Inducing a person not to work who is on the low income scale, not to get on the ladder of life to begin working, getting the dignity of work, getting more opportunities, rising their income, joining the middle class, this means fewer people will do that. That's why I'm troubled by this.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Opportunity created by affordable quality health insurance allows families in America to make a decision about how they will work, and if they will work.


SHANNON BREAM, ANCHOR: More reaction to CBO numbers about how ObamaCare will impact the economy. Let's talk about it with our panel. We welcome Ron Fournier, senior political columnist and editorial director of National Journal, his inaugural visit tonight, Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, author of the best-selling continuing to be a best-selling blockbuster, "Things that Matter." Welcome all and welcome back, Charles.


BREAM: I want to start with you because you weren't here last night with us for reaction to this, reacting to not only the data, but how it's being played on both sides. The White House says this is about creating opportunity. It gives people choices.

KRAUTHAMMER: I'm glad I'm back tonight because the statement that Carney made is going to be emblazoned on the tombstone of liberalism. He says opportunity -- this is what he's heralding in this achievement, that the government is giving opportunity for people to decide if they want to work. This is the liberals' ideal of the opportunity society. Of course, in a free society, you can decide if you want to work. But what ObamaCare does, and sort of the essence of liberalism, is that you can then choose not to work, and the people who do work end up subsidizing you. Those people have to send their money into the government and then shift it to the people who choose in this ideal new opportunity society not to work.

And in fact, what Elmendorf said -- the head of the CBO -- today is obviously, ObamaCare with a disincentive, is creating an incentive not to work. And Ryan is right. It's particularly in the one place where you want the incentive because it is the only way out of the ladder, of people who are unsuccessful in society is to work, to get the training and the habits and the dignity of work. And this does exactly the opposite.

Now, you can argue it's an inevitable side effect of any kind of benefit of this sort, but that's not the argument the administration is making. This is a benefit, a wonderful thing that we're giving people the opportunity not to work and to live off the sweat and the work of other people.  Is that the American way? That sounds odd to me.

BAIER: And Mara, America is seen around the world as a place of opportunity, and maybe people don't think of opportunity in these terms, the opportunity to not work. You know, it's different than the fabric of what a lot of people think that our country is.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Well, I can tell you that this whole debate over the CBO report and the Affordable Care Act has been a terrible, terrible conversation for the White House and for Democrats, because we have now gotten into down the rabbit hole of whether this is going to encourage people to not work. I don't think that the health care subsidy is enough for people to live on, so they're not going to work. It just helps them buy health insurance. It's not a guaranteed income. It's not like we're giving a check to somebody and it takes care of all their needs.

BREAM: But it makes more sense when they do all the calculations, more sense for them financially to stay home.


LIASSON: But who are these people? They could be somebody older. They could be a mother who wants to stay home with her kids, which Republicans would applaud. The problem with this entire debate is that the Democratic argument is complex. It's nuanced. It's very, very hard to explain in a way that people will accept. The Republican side is simple. Hey, the CBO report says that the Affordable Care Act subsidies are going to be an incentive for people not to work full-time. That's pretty simple.

BREAM: Ron, I know you think the reality is somewhere between the two arguments.

RON FOURNIER, NATIONAL REVIEW: Yeah. What really frustrates me if you look at the CBO report, it talks about two very big systematic changes we're trying to go through. One, is how do we extend health insurance to 50 million people who don't have it and maybe bring down costs and fix what's a pretty broken system. And two is how do we address, and this hasn't been covered at all, how do we address this long-term pernicious debt problem we have in this country?

The numbers in that report about where we're heading with the deficits and the long-term debt are really, really scary. And instead of talking about the problems like adults in a mature way, we're going to our battle stations, running to the easiest talking point, and not solving these problems.

KRAUTHAMMER: I don't think it's a talking point if the CBO says, I'm assuming they are, everybody accepts impartial, that built into this is a huge disincentive for anybody who is getting this health insurance to end up working --


FOURNIER: We should get rid of Medicare and Social Security as well because they're disincentives.

KRAUTHAMMER: Medicare is meant for the elderly --


LIASSON: No, 62-year-olds work. You don't have to be retired to get Medicare.

KRAUTHAMMER: You're talking about the only people here are the ones who cannot work. There's no argument other those who are either disabled or elderly or children who can't work. What we're talking about is people who can work and don't. And what Carney is saying is we are now granting the opportunity of people to decide how they want to work and if they want to work. Is that an achievement that the government subsidizes you and uses the money of people who do work to enable an able-bodied say 20-year-old, 30-year-old, to decide, well,  I'm not going to work?

FOURNIER: That would not be a good achievement. My understanding of the CBO report and the testimony today by Elmendorf, is first it would create more opportunity for -- more demand for a work force, instead of lowering the unemployment. Secondly, it doesn't give people, especially young able- bodied people, the ability to stop working and retire on the dole. It gives you more freedom to go into a small business if you want to. It gives you more freedom to be able to stay home with your family if you need to. It unlocks you from your job. There's a lot of people out there right now who are tied to their job. They can't leave it because of health insurance, and they want to go to other jobs or other opportunities.

KRAUTHAMMER: But when they choose not to work, where do they get the money from? From other people who are working.


FOURNIER: You're twisting this.

KRAUTHAMMER: Where do the taxes come from? It doesn't grow on trees.

FOURNIER: This is not a retirement system, though. What it is, is a subsidy to help you get health insurance so that you don't have to be tied to the job you have.


LIASSON: If you're not working, you can't get a subsidy. You have to have a certain income to get a subsidy.

BREAM: But you could have sort of a dead-end job, and I think this was to Paul Ryan's point saying, if you could have a dead-end job, a part-time gig, enough so you qualify for a subsidy, which is then underwritten by somebody who works 60, 70 hours a week, what incentive is there for someone to get on the ladder, to be fighting their way up, to be maximizing the potential for opportunity here in the U.S., what we're built on, if they know that they could coast.

LIASSON: He has a bad view of the American public if he thinks that people would rather live in an extremely marginal, impoverished way.

FOURNIER: What's the incentive is there to work at all if that is the argument. You could go work, and you can go on the dole, and you can get your food stamps.

BREAM: I think that's what he was worried about.

LIASSON: You could do that now. You can do that now.

KRAUTHAMMER: He's making a simple mathematical point, that if you have a part-time job and you're getting a big subsidy and you're offered say a better job -- you do the calculation. The marginal tax on the first dollar, on the last dollar you're going to earn in the new job is probably going to be 80 or 90 percent, which is just a fact. That's why Elmendorf is saying it's a huge incentive not to take that job. And that is irrefutable.

BREAM: Alright, I know that you all have a lot more to say. I like the passion, but we have to go on this topic. Next up, stick around, the panel is going to tackle this. The new man at the IRS is now saying he's sorry.  

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