January 5 2017
In the New York Times, reporter Robert Pear offers an overview of the "parliamentary tactic" Republicans might use to "obliterate Obamacare." (It appears the article's title originally used the word "trick" instead of tactic, but was later edited.) The "trick" is budget reconciliation.
Scroll halfway through the report and you will find a casual mention of Obamacare's history: "Congress also made changes to the Affordable Care Act in a reconciliation bill passed immediately after President Obama signed the health care overhaul in 2010."
That's quite the understatement.
Democrats, and some in the media, are suffering from selective and collective amnesia about Obamacare's passage. The reconciliation process, although not technically the process by which Obamacare became law, was critical to creating what we know today as Obamacare. Health reform as we know it was really two bills, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act.
Here's the whole history: Between April 2009 and January 2010, Democrats held a 60-vote majority in the Senate. During this time the Senate passed House Bill 3590 (on Christmas Eve 2009) that was finally named the "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act." But this legislation was completely different from what was originally House Bill 3590. The original bill in the House concerned home loans for service members and was completely unrelated to healthcare.
The Senate essentially cut out all the language from House Bill 3590, even the title, and replaced it with health reform in an effort to rush Obamacare through. The House also passed healthcare legislation, but it was not House Bill 3590. The House healthcare bill was different. But — if you remember from "Schoolhouse Rock" — in order for a bill to become law, both houses have to pass the same bill.
Democrats lost their 60-vote supermajority on Jan. 19, 2010, when Massachusetts elected Republican Scott Brown in a special election to replace the deceased Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. With Senate Republicans unified against the ACA and no way to get past a filibuster, this meant the Senate could not pass the House version of health reform, for lack of 60 votes. But House Democrats had problems with the Senate version, so Democratic lawmakers were in a bind.
To get the healthcare legislation they wanted, lawmakers crafted a strategy to pass the Senate version of health reform in the House (on March 21, 2010) and to follow that bill immediately with another, House Bill 4872 (ultimately passed on March 25, 2010). This latter bill made substantive changes to health reform, the changes House Democrats wanted, but was passed via the budget reconciliation process. Therefore, it required only 51 votes in the Senate to become law. Obama signed both bills into law, and together they make up what we know today as Obamacare, the ACA, or health reform.
Obamacare would not be what it is today without the budget reconciliation process, the same process Republicans are considering using to repeal major (budget-related) parts of Obamacare. It's a double standard to pretend that Republicans are using trickery or unprecedented tactics to repeal the misguided healthcare legislation, considering how critical reconciliation was to the law's creation.