Dana Milbank and the "Fact Free Zone"

by Robert Waldmann

Dana Milbank and the “Fact Free Zone”

I expected to enjoy Dana Milbank’s article entitled “From Obamacare to the IRS scandal, Republicans are ignoring the facts” But Milbank decided that he should Ballance his observation that Republicans are indifferent to facts with the following paragraph.

Rubio’s fact-free approach to Obamacare is puzzling because plenty of damning things can be said about the health-care law that are perfectly accurate: It does little to curb entitlements, it disrupts insurance plans for millions, it leaves 31 million Americans without coverage and, as the CBO forecast, it would take the equivalent of 2.3 million full-time workers out of the workforce.

Yep that’s showing em Dana. 1. “little” is a nice weasel word, but the ACA eliminated the huge Medicare advantage extra payments and massively cut the rate of growth of regular Medicare payments. It also made hospitals responsible for the costs of treating the infections people pick up there. I don’t claim that the sudden complete utter change in US entitlement spending is mostly due to the ACA but the assertion “little” is based on completely ignoring those data which are inconvenient to the quest for Ballance, that is all of the relevant data.


The disrupted insurance plans are of free riders whose care will be financed by others because the so called insurance won’t pay for it. Also most of them will get much better insurance for a modest increase in premiums. Most of the rest will get much better insurance and pay less for it. The Republihype and MSM laziness was much more effective in this case than in the latest two, but it is bogus. The figure 31 million Americans is simply false. The figure includes over 9 million people who will not get insurance because they are undocumented aliens.

I think these people should get insurance (and citizenship) but they are not “Americans” as the word is conventionally used (I mean most are Americans just not statunitensi). Notably Republicans can’t complain about undocumented aliens not being covered, because they have been claiming that undocumented aliens will be covered.

Also the assertion the equivalent of 2.3 million full-time workers out of the workforce is false for two reasons. The 2.3 million is the upper end of a range of estimates. To be accurate Milbank had to write “as many as” but he didn’t. More importantly the word “workforce” is simply incorrect. The claim is false as written. Labor supply is forecast to decline by up to 2.3 million full time equivalents (that is by up to 4.6 billion hours) but much of that is forecast to be of the form of reduced hours worked. Part time workers are employed and therefore in the workforce. Milbank’s claim is simply false.

This is important, because the safety net as hammock argument is an argument that withdrawal from the work force is bad for the ex workers and a bad example for their kids. There is no reason to think that working part time has similarly bad social effects. Milbank’s error is material. It is also undeniable. Now I guess the disrupting millions claim could be defended. The other three claims in Milbank’s ballancing paragraph on other people “ignoring the facts” are definitely undisputibly falsehoods and must be corrected. Now I understand the problem. Milbank feels that he must ballance criticism of Republicans with criticism of the ACA. I’m sure that he gave almost exactly no thought to the paragraph full of errors. It was just something he had to type between the paragraphs he cares about and received about as much thought as the period and double hard return between other accurate paragraphs.

update: I note that my assertion that Milbank made four false claims of fact in his column on the “fact free zone” is based entirely on the words “little”, “Americans” and “Workforce” if “does little” had been “doesn’t do as much as I think should be done”, “Americans” had been “people in the USA” and workforce had been “labor supply” then his comment on the fact free zone would have been free of errors of fact.

Following Coberly, in comments, I note that Milbank is unfair to Republicans. He says that their dishonesty is especially reprehensible because they could accurately criticize the ACA the way he did (except of course for his errors of fact which he didn’t notice). He is suggesting that they denounce the unpopular mandate and Medicare cuts for not going far enough.

I (and I guess Milbank) think that failure to insure undocumented aliens is shameful, but Republicans won’t win elections by denouncing this failure. Rather they want people to think undocumented aliens are getting subsidies (only occasionally do elected Republicans falsely assert this but they are careful not to correct the mistaken belief). He and I are appalled by the failure of Republicans to extend Medicaid, but he can’t really expect Republicans to denounce that can he ? The rest of the 31 million are the result of exceptions to the mandate, the low penalty and the virtually absent enforcement of the penalty. Is he really suggesting that Republicans should argue that there is much less to the mandate than most people imagine ?

But the main point (Coberly’s point) is that cutting entitlements is just about the least popular thing politicians can do. It is insane for Republicans to demand more entitlement cuts. Many of them are in Congress because they campaigned against the Medicare budget cuts in the ACA.

Finally, the reduction in labor supply is a matter of families accepting income lower than 4 times the poverty line. This is not at all what most people think of when they worry about social welfare programs reducing incentives to work. They think of those people who don’t work at all and pick up T-bone steaks with their cadillacs. It is clear that the vast majority of people in the USA just don’t have any sense that they should have stronger incentives to aim for income over $80,000. Supply siders, centrist pundits and well economists see a problem with messing with incentives of people who will be employed in either case. The general public just doesn’t. Here I think the general public has a point — there is a real important difference between reducing the labor force and reducing labor supply, because there is a real important difference between the social effects of non employment and of part time employment.

Milbank basically says that it is easy to convince Milbank that the mandate and the Medicare cuts didn’t go far enough and the ACA is too easy on middle class Americans. This is politically irrelevant.

The point (if any) is that Milbank isn’t seriously discussing the actual policy and he isn’t discussing the politics either.