With glitches continuing to hamper the federal health care website that went live in October 2013, a group of Senate Democrats is asking the White House to extend the open enrollment period for people to buy coverage.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and nine others say individuals shouldn’t be penalized for lack of coverage if they can’t get health insurance through the new website, healthcare.gov. They want to push back the March 31, 2014 enrollment deadline to compensate for the technical problems.
"Extending this period will give consumers critical time in which to become familiar with the website and choose a plan that is best for them," the senators wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
With Shaheen emerging as a leading voice in favor of extending the enrollment period, her opponents in New Hampshire are seizing the opportunity to remind voters that Shaheen was one of the Democrats who helped usher in the president’s health reform law in 2010.
"In Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire has a Senator who was the deciding vote to pass Obamacare," wrote Republican Jim Rubens, who plans to challenge Shaheen next year, in a Nov. 4, 2013 email.
New Hampshire GOP Chairwoman Jennifer Horn offered the same criticism. She said Shaheen’s call to extend the enrollment period is "too little, too late" and does nothing to address the "burdensome tax increases that Granite Staters will face as a result of the individual mandate."
"Senator Jeanne Shaheen was the deciding vote in favor of ObamaCare, and she is the reason why New Hampshire families are dealing with disastrous consequences of this awful law," Horn said.
It’s true that Shaheen voted to pass the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. But was she really the "deciding vote" in favor of the law?
PolitiFact has seen numerous politicians called "the deciding vote" for Obamacare in the past. In Florida, a campaign ad from the 60 Plus Association attacked Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson for being "the deciding vote" for Obamacare. It was ruled Mostly False.
PolitiFact Wisconsin looked at campaign literature from Republican Senate candidate Ron Johnson that claimed Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold "cast the deciding vote" for the health care bill in 2009. The claim earned a rating of Mostly False.
In Michigan, a Republican committee said it was Sen. Debbie Stabenow. Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey and Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill have also been credited with casting the "deciding vote."
The claims reflect the gamesmanship that every incumbent faces when opponents take a look at the voting record. Rather than just say the senator voted for a bill, the attackers up the ante by declaring it was the single vote that made the difference.
In the case of the health care law, there’s a sliver of truth. All of the Democratic senators were needed to pass the bill. One of the key votes happened on Dec. 24, 2009, when 58 Democrats and two independents voted together in favor of the bill. (Sixty votes were needed for a preliminary cloture vote to prevent filibusters; otherwise the final vote couldn’t happen and the bill would have been blocked.)
"Any one of those 60 Democrats who voted for it in the U.S. Senate, had they voted no, it would not have passed," Rubens said in an interview. "So any one of those 60 would have been the deciding vote."
However, PolitiFact has been unsympathetic to that argument in the past, since calling someone "the deciding vote" implies he or she played a pivotal role, such as withholding support until the last moment.
When it comes to the health care law, Shaheen wasn’t a holdout. If any Democratic senator deserves the distinction of clearing the way for the health reform law, it was then-Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska. As was widely reported at the time, Nelson delivered the 60th vote needed to send the bill to the floor of the Senate for a vote.
Shaheen’s staff provided a few examples of her public comments in support of health care reform before the vote.
"The status quo is simply not sustainable," Shaheen said on Sept. 23, 2009. "Now is the time to act."
She repeated her call for health reform in floor speeches on Oct. 1, Dec. 7 and Dec. 14, 2009, saying the bill will begin to address soaring health care costs.
Shaheen said years of "perverse incentives" have encouraged doctors to do more procedures rather than practice better medicine, and that the bill will shift the industry away from the fee-for-service model.
"The many programs supported in the bill before us move us in the direction of delivery system reform, which is so important to our effort," Shaheen said on Dec. 15. "By promoting innovative practices like accountable care organizations, payment reform and medical homes, we can move away from the current fee-for-service system that rewards volume over value."
As the horse-trading that produced the final Senate bill was underway, there was one brief period of tension between Shaheen and some members of the Democratic leadership.
Shaheen signed a Dec. 11 letter to Senate President Harry Reid imploring him to reject a proposal to allow people to buy into Medicare at age 55.
That notion was floated while negotiations were underway about including a public option in the health reform plan. But Shaheen and 11 other Senate Democrats said expanding the Medicare pool without changing reimbursement rates would exacerbate existing funding inequities in their states. The provision was dropped from the final health reform bill that passed the Senate at the end of 2009.
Rubens said Shaheen was "the deciding vote to pass Obamacare." It’s true that all 60 Democratic votes -- including Shaheen’s -- were needed to pass the measure through the Senate. However, Shaheen, unlike Ben Nelson, was hardly a holdout until the last minute; she gave indications early on that she supported the president’s reform plan. We rate Rubens’ claim Mostly False.