It was the trickiest legislative move ever accomplished in the Congress. Here’s my best play-by-play: Obamacare was signed into law in March 2010. If you recall, Nancy Pelosi’s Democratic majority in the House of Representatives was unable to pass their version of a healthcare law. Because all revenue bills have to originate in the House, the Senate found a bill that met those qualifications: HR3590, a military housing bill. They essentially stripped the bill of its original language and turned it into the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), aka Obamacare. The Senate at that time had 60 Democrats, just enough to pass Obamacare.
However after the bill passed the Senate, Democrat Senator Ted Kennedy died. In his place, Massachusetts elected Republican Scott Brown. That meant that if the House made any changes to the bill the Senate wouldn’t have the necessary number of votes to pass the amended bill (because they knew no Republicans would vote for Obamacare). So Senate Leader Harry Reid cut a deal with Pelosi: the House would pass the Senate bill without any changes if the Senate agreed to pass a separate bill by the House that made changes to the Senate version of Obamacare. This second bill was called the Reconciliation Act of 2010. So the House passed PPACA, the Senate bill, as well as their Reconciliation Act. At this point PPACA was ready for the President to sign, but the Senate still needed to pass the Reconciliation Act from the House. Confused? We all were. And it got worse. Remember that the Senate only had 59 votes to pass the Reconciliation Act since Republican Scott Brown replaced Democrat Ted Kennedy.
Therefore in order to pass the Act Senate Democrats decided to change the rules. They declared that they could use the “Reconciliation Rule (this is a different “reconciliation” than the House bill). This rule was only supposed to be used for budget item approvals so that such items could be passed with only 51 votes in the Senate, not the usual 60. Reconciliation was never intended to be used for legislation of the magnitude of Obamacare. But that didn’t stop them. So both of the “Acts” were able to pass both houses of Congress and sent to President Obama for his signature without a single Republican vote in favor of the legislation. The American system of governance was shafted. To quote Democrat Rep. Alcee Hastings of the House Rules Committee during the bill process: “We’re making up the rules as we go along.