Earlier today Bloomberg View columnists Margaret Carlson and Ramesh Ponnuru met online to chat about Obamacare, CVS and Woody Allen. Below is a lightly edited transcript.
Margaret: Ramesh, we have two huge stories today: The Congressional Budget Office's report on Obamacare and CVS stopping the sale of tobacco products. Yowsers! to the second as it marks a cultural shift where smoking is prohibited not by law but by society. My parents quit smoking because I was allergic to the smoke and often said it saved their lives until my mother got lung cancer. She was a tournament bridge player and tried, to no avail, to get her bridge clubs to deal with the haze that hung over every room she played in. She thought all that second-hand smoke may kill her.
Ramesh: That move by CVS reflects a big cultural shift. I remember thinking that the smoking bans on bars were a terrible overreach by governments. I still think that, actually, but now the bans are completely accepted and nobody thinks much about them. Does Rite Aid follow suit, or does it pick up extra business? The CBO report is pretty bad news for Obamacare -- it's hard to spin a further reduction in the labor force as a good thing, although I see the White House is trying -- but the worst part of the report is that it seems pretty optimistic. The events of the last few months have made them drop their prediction of how many people enroll in the exchanges by only 1 million. It could work out that way, but I wouldn't bet on it.
Margaret: Republicans are harping on something the CBO report doesn't say with their crusade to label Obamacare as a job killer. This report doesn't say that employers aren't hiring because of Obamacare but that the increase in people you might expect in the work force isn't happening in part because of the ACA. Here's the relevant passage: The CBO projects that "total employment (and compensation) will increase over the coming decade, that increase will be smaller than it would have been in the absence of the ACA." There are huge disruptions in the workplace especially among the unskilled. Some people are in jobs only to get access to insurance. Imagine a woman working and earning almost nothing after paying her expenses for child care who can now get her family covered through the ACA. That allows her to stay home and rely on her husband's job for the family's income whether it provides health-insurance or not. The best way to reform health care would have been to delink it from employment. The ACA isn't the best way to do that but it's a start.
Ramesh: You're right, Margaret, that we should loosen the link between employment and insurance, and that when we do that some people will work less. But Obamacare has a bigger effect than necessary because it cuts people's benefits so sharply the more they work. That's another one of its design flaws. And it's a particular problem when the labor force is already shrinking.
Margaret: I can only do health care once per chat so I'm not getting into the Republicans' lame attempt at their own plan (finally). Instead, let's make a sharp turn to Woody Allen. The charge by his stepdaughter that he sexually assaulted her when she was seven rings true to me because it doesn't come on a blank slate. The one time I fought against a cover at Time Magazine, in the 15 years I was there, was when the magazine considered running "The Heart Wants What It Wants" as its cover, when Allen married Soon-Yi Previn. That was weird and creepy then and it remains so. If Allen weren't a celebrity, he'd be a pariah for marrying a child he treated as a daughter when he was all-but-wedded to her mother. I fear he counts as one of the left's heroes but talent shouldn't matter. When it's wrong, it's wrong. As my personal boycott, I've never gone to an Allen film during its first run. I exempt watching them for $1.99 on Comcast as it doesn't add to his fortunes. Watch "Manhattan" knowing what you know. It's sick.
Ramesh: I don't know what happened, and kids can be coached into reporting horrific offenses that never took place; remember all those Satanic-abuse stories from preschools. On the other hand, there is a level of creepiness about Allen that adds credibility to the story. Did you see Esquire's look back at his movies yesterday? And the defenses coming from Team Woody, to my mind, make the accusations even more credible. I don't think I'll ever be able to watch one of his movies the same way again.
Margaret: Maybe it's time to stop watching them. I'm giving him up altogether. There's always "House of Cards," which just announced its third season.
Ramesh: I'm looking forward to Frank Underwood finally coming up against the real power center in Washington, D.C.: the CBO. Should make for some gripping hours.
(Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist. Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg View columnist, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor at the National Review.)
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