Democratic Senator: Our Party Passed Obamacare Without Going Through Reconciliation Process

Posted: Jun 29, 2017 1:30 PM

On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, guest Willie Geist asked Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) where Democrats could work with Republicans on areas of Obamacare that both sides agree need fixing. The problem is that the Republican base wants repeal, though it wouldn’t shock me if there are growing numbers of GOP voters who are becoming convinced that Obama’s signature domestic achievement is here to stay. So far, GOP efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare have been met with disaster and strong public disapproval. Yes, the Better Care Reconciliation Act reduced the deficit by $321 billion and reduces premiums by 30 percent by 2020. Those are all good things, but 22 million fewer Americans will have health insurance by 2026. That’s the figure that Democrats will use to torch Republicans—and they have with calls that their bill will kills thousands of people. It’s a claim as unsubstantiated as the allegations of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign during the 2016 election.

Well, Murphy wanted to push back on the claim that Democrats haven’t been willing to work with Republicans on health care, noting the rush to pass the BCRA through the reconciliation, which would require no Democratic votes for passage. Joe Scarborough was quick to say that’s how Democrats passed Obamacare in 2010. Murphy said that wasn’t the case; that Democrats had 60 votes and reconciliation wasn’t used.

 Yet, Scarborough dredged up this Washington Post article, where they reported how reconciliation was used by Democrats to push through Obamacare when the GOP was able to get their first repeal bill through Congress. Of course, Obama vetoed it [emphasis mine]:

 Numerous other GOP-backed bills have failed in the Senate, where Democrats hold enough votes to filibuster any bill they are unified in opposing. To pass the Obamacare repeal bill, Republican lawmakers used the complex budget procedure known as reconciliation to avoid a filibuster in this case — the same procedure Democrats used to pass the bill in 2009 when they held both the House and the Senate.

 Actually, we have to be honest here. Sen. Murphy is right and the Post article is a tad misleading. Liberal bloggers like Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum were quick to correct the record at the time:

 It [Obamacare] was passed in the Senate under regular order, by a vote of 60-39 on December 24, 2009. Later, after Democrats lost their supermajority in the Senate, the House passed the Senate bill and then passed a second bill that implemented a few modest increases to subsidy levels and taxes. None of them were critical to the overall bill, but the Senate agreed to support these changes. These small, nonessential adjustments are the only part of Obamacare that was passed via reconciliation.

Everything else—the individual mandate, the pre-existing conditions ban, the subsidies, the Medicaid expansion, the medical loss ratios, the donut hole, the cost improvements, the taxes to pay for it all—in other words, everything that mattered, was passed via regular order.

 Even Erick Erickson’s The Resurgent also noted that it’s not entirely true that Obamacare was passed by reconciliation, hence the issues with a clean repeal bill:

The Affordable Care Act was passed by the House without amendment on March 21, 2010 and went directly to the president’s desk. The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 was passed by both Houses of Congress on March 25, 2010. President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law on March 23 and the Health Care Reconciliation Act on March 30.

The bottom line is that Obamacare passed with two bills. One was a reconciliation bill and one was not. The largest part of Obamacare legislation was passed in a normal bill that Republicans did not have the numbers to filibuster. The Republicans cannot pass a clean repeal because they do not have the votes to stop the Democrat filibuster that would be certain to come.


The failure of the Republicans to pass a clean repeal bill is not due to a lack of will on most members of the party. It is due to math. Democrats used the extremely rare and temporary 60-vote majority to force Obamacare through Congress with no Republican support. The current Republican position is much weaker than that of the Democrats in 2010.

Forget the history of Obamacare. We know it passed. Here’s the bottom line: Democrats don’t want to work with Republicans on this issue. We all know this. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said that the only way Democrats cooperate is if the Republicans stopped acting…like Republicans (i.e. quit the repeal efforts), which he knows won’t happen unless GOP lawmakers want to risk brutal punishment inflicted upon them from the conservative base. There’s the midterm election next year and Democrats feel that they have a shot at retaking Congress, or at least the House, and if ginning up the health scare tactics gets them there—so be it. They feel the GOP is screwed either way. Keep forging ahead, the bad poll numbers on their health care bills could sink them. If they work with Democrats to fix but not repeal Obamacare, their base could abandon them. For Democrats, they feel either way increases the odds for Democrats to do well next year, though it’s all mere speculation, as we’re over a year away from the 2018 elections. 

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