The Corner

Obamacare, Reconciliation, and 2010

In response to The Virtue of The Trial Ballon

David French notes that Democrats used the “budget reconciliation” process to pass Obamacare–allowing them to avoid filibusters and thus to pass legislation with a simple majority in the Senate–and that Republicans are now planning to use the same process to repeal parts of Obamacare. You might be wondering why Republicans aren’t just using the process to repeal Obamacare in its entirety. So it might be helpful to fill in a bit more of the history of Obamacare’s passage.

People may have forgotten it, but most of Obamacare was actually passed with 60 Senate votes. But too many House Democrats objected to the Senate version of the bill to pass it. They wanted to iron out their differences with Senate Democrats and then pass a new version of the bill. But then Senator Ted Kennedy died and was replaced by Scott Brown, a Republican opposed to Obamacare, so Democrats no longer had enough votes to overcome a filibuster. Their solution had two parts. First, they’d have the House vote for the bill that had already passed the Senate with 60 votes. Second, they would have both chambers pass a second bill — it was dubbed a “sidecar” at the time — that made some changes to Obamacare to satisfy the House but was immune to filibusters.

There are some Republicans who think that it’s possible to use the reconciliation rules to repeal all of Obamacare with a simple majority vote. But the Democrats’ behavior in 2010 doesn’t prove them right, and the prevailing view is that only parts of Obamacare can be repealed with a simple majority. That’s why Republicans are going ahead with only a partial repeal. (James Capretta and Jo Antos, two conservative health-care experts and colleagues of mine at the American Enterprise Institute, explain the pitfalls of this approach in a new article for Health Affairs.)

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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