(Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

“Obamacare, whatever comes up, Republicans throw that in. You realized they’ve voted to repeal it 40 times? What’s happened 40 times, of course, it’s failed.”

— Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), interview on “Meet the Press,” July 14, 2013

We don’t mean to pick on Reid, who also was subject of a fact check on Monday, but a reader complained that this oft-told factoid by Democrats is inaccurate on two counts: one, not every vote concerned the whole law and two, some of those votes turned out to be successful.

So we decided to investigate.


The Facts

Congressional Republicans have never reconciled themselves to passage of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, which became law in 2010 without a single Republican vote when the Democrats had big majorities in the House and Senate. But a review of the votes commonly lumped together as “repeal” shows that only a handful in this list of “40” (actually 37) involved repeal of the entire law.

 Here are the votes:

 January 19, 2011 — House repealed the health care law in its entirety. (H.R. 2) (Measure passed 245 to 184, according to The Washington Post Congressional Votes Database.)

July 11, 2012 — House repealed Obamacare in its entirety in the wake of the Supreme Court decision to uphold the vast majority of the law. (H.R. 6079.) (See the vote count.)

 May 16, 2013 — House repealed Obamacare in its entirety as a stand alone bill. (H.R. 45) (See the vote count.)


There were also three votes on House budget resolutions that included repeal of the law, though these were only nonbinding budget blueprints.  One could quibble about whether or not these should be counted in a tally of votes concerning full repeal of the law. Here are those votes:

April 15, 2011 — House passed FY2012 budget which repeals and defunds Obamacare. (H.Con.Res.34) (See the vote count.)

March 29, 2012 — House passed FY2013 budget which repeals and defunds Obamacare. (H.Con.Res.112) (See the vote count.)

March 21, 2013 — House passed FY2014 budget which repeals and defunds Obamacare. (H.Con.Res.25) (See the vote count.)


So what are the other votes? The other 31 votes involved pieces of the law, or votes to strip away the funding, leaving just the legal shell intact. Nine of the votes (one quarter of the total) took place on a single day — Feb. 19, 2011 — as amendments to fiscal year 2011 continuing appropriations.

Some journalists are more careful than others in making clear the votes are to repeal “all or part” of the law.

But more to the point, despite Reid’s claim, some of these votes were actually successful, in that the bills also passed the Senate and were signed into law by President Obama. We count eight such votes.

March 3, 2011 — House passed (signed into law) the Comprehensive 1099 Taxpayer Protection and Repayment of Exchange Subsidy Overpayments Act: This measure repealed Form 1099 reporting requirements that were added to help finance the health law. (H.R. 4) (See the vote count.)

April 14, 2011 — House passed (signed into law) the Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2011: The measure repealed the free choice voucher program and reduced funding for the Consumer Operated and Oriented Plan (CO-OP) by $2.2 billion . It also barred increasing Internal Revenue Service funding to hire additional agents to enforce the health law’s individual mandate. (H.R. 1473) (See the vote count.)

August 1, 2011 — House passed (signed into law) the Budget Control Act of 2011 that curtailed some funding for the health law. (S. 365) (See the vote count.)

Nov. 16, 2011 — House required (signed into law) certain benefits to be included in the calculation of modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) for purposes of determining eligibility for certain health care programs established by the law. (H.R. 674)  (See the vote count.)

December 16, 2011 — House passed (signed into law) The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012: This measure rescinded $400 million in CO-OP funds and $10 million in funds for the Independent Patient Advisory Board (IPAB). It also cut IRS’s enforcement budget and tightened restrictions on using federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant money for lobbying purposes. (H.R. 2055) (See the vote count.)

February 17, 2012 — House passed (signed into law) the Conference Report to the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012: The bill cut a total of $11.6 billion from the law.  (H.R. 3630)  (See the vote count.)

June 29, 2012 — As part of a bill (signed into law) establishing federal transportation funding and freezing federally subsidized student loan rates for another year, the House also voted to save $670 million by recalculating the amount of money Louisiana gets from Medicaid. (H.R. 4348)  (See the vote count.)

June 29, 2012 — House further reduced (signed into law) a Medicaid formula drafting error included in Obamacare’s “Louisiana Purchase” provision, clawing back $670 million as part of the Highway Conference bill. (H.R. 4348)  (See the vote count.)

January 1, 2013 — House passed (signed into law) the fiscal cliff deal which repealed the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act (by then abandoned by the administration) and rescinded unobligated CO-OP funds, among other provisions. (H.R. 8)  (See the vote count.)

While the core of the law has remained unchanged, these bills have had an impact — in some cases significant. As our colleague Sarah Kliff noted earlier this year:

In the course of nearly 40 repeal votes, Congress has also managed to change the Affordable Care Act in some substantive ways. It repealed a small-business tax reporting requirement that legislators in both parties derided as onerous. Congress changed the way income gets counted under the Affordable Care Act in determining who receives a tax subsidy to purchase health insurance coverage.

Congress has cut off funding to a program that was meant to fund new, nonprofit health plans in all states. It  also cut into the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which pays for everything from primary care residencies to healthy corner store programs. 

These are actual changes to the Affordable Care Act which have not dismantled the law but have certainly affected what the final product will look like. They have also bolstered the stance of the Republican Party as decidedly anti-Obamacare, a position that has had a marked impact on the health law’s state-level implementation.


A Reid spokesman did not respond to a query.


The Pinocchio Test

The House of Representatives has certainly had nearly 40 votes related to the health care law.

But Reid goes too far when he tallies up all of these votes and pronounces the whole effort to be failure. In fact, the number of full repeal votes is significantly less than 40 — and some of the piecemeal efforts have successfully trimmed back or altered the law. Indeed, the House GOP batting average is .216, which may not be great for baseball but it’s certainly better than zero.

Reid’s claim comes close to Three Pinocchios, but not quite.

Two Pinocchios

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