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The ‘Health Care Needed 60 Votes’ Myth Never Dies

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Sen. Coburn (R-Okla.) discuss their proposed Medicare reform bill.

Trotting out Lieberman to kill the public option (and his own political career) was unnecessary. After Scott Brown won Ted Kennedy’s US Senate seat the Democrats were forced to pass the health care bill with 50 votes.

It is amazing to me that prominent people still claim health care reform needed 60 votes in the Senate, even this myth has been proved false repeatedly in huge ways.

The latest example is Henry Aaron and Harold Pollack rehashing this lie once again to defend the poor design of the Affordable Care Act. From the New Republic:

There was and is no alternative to the messy incremental politics that produced Obamacare. Liberals such as then–House Majority Speaker Nancy Pelosi didn’t make unpalatable compromises because they held pallid aspirations for health reform. They compromised because they knew that they could not impose their will on querulous colleagues, because they needed 60 Senate votes, because millions of Americans needed help, and because it is better to win messily than to lose gloriously.

This 60 vote requirement was always total nonsense.

First, health care reform could have been done with reconciliation. Democrats put reconciliation instructions for health care in their first budget and everyone should remember that Democrats actually had to use reconciliation to finish their plan. They had a chance to significantly move the bill to the left with only 50 votes in the Senate but chose instead to only make a few small changes.

Second, Democrats just last month proved to the entire country that the filibuster was always toothless. It took Democrats only about 30 minutes to eliminate it for presidential appointees. There is no reason Democrats couldn’t have done that for health care reform back in 2009 or 2010.

The filibuster was not a real obstacle, it was convenient excuse.

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at