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Molly Moorhead
By Molly Moorhead October 18, 2011

Pitts on health care: long, with no amendments

Continuing their battle against the health care overhaul, a group of Republican congressmen held a press conference on Oct. 5, 2011, outside the Capitol, waving a petition they say was signed by 1.6 million Americans calling for a repeal of the law.

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, in an Oct. 6 column, criticized the Republicans for dithering about the past rather than enacting job-creating legislation that could better position their party to take back the White House next November.

Milbank plucked verbal nuggets from several GOP lawmakers, concluding with a truncated quote from Rep. Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania.

"Monstrous!" contributed Rep. Joe Pitts (Pa.). "This was a 2,733-page bill! . . . No amendments! . . . Partisan vote!"

The entire quote, which we found in a transcript of the press conference, goes like this: "This was a 2,733-page bill that went directly from Harry Reid's desk to the Senate floor, bypassed Senate committee, no amendments, passed on a partisan vote, directly from the Senate floor to the House floor, bypass the committees, no amendments, passed on a partisan vote, without one member having read this bill."

A lot of claims are packed into that one sentence, but we thought we’d dig into just a couple of them. One, is the bill really that long? And two, were there no amendments at all during its long road to passage?

The page count

We asked Pitts’ office where the 2,733 came from, and his spokesman said Pitts was referring to "how long the bill was the week it was considered in the House."

According to the Library of Congress, which catalogs all versions of the different bills, the one that passed the Senate in December 2009 numbers 2,409 pages. The following March, the House passed the same bill and both chambers  passed a reconciliation bill that modified the law (and appeased Democrats in the House). It numbers 55 pages.

Added up, the total is 2,464.

Pitts’ spokesman acknowledged that the law is shorter now, but said "if you go back to March 2010, you can find a number of contemporary references to the bill as numbering 2,700 pages."

We looked at other versions of the bill but could not find any that had that number. Still, while Pitts is off slightly because of different versions and how the document is broken into pages, his underlying point is right: It was a very long bill.

No amendments?

Whether the bill had no amendments is a much trickier claim.

If you remember your Civics 101 class (and Schoolhouse Rock), you might recall how a bill becomes law: Usually, the House and Senate pass different versions of a bill, then they work out their differences in a conference committee. A unified bill comes out of that committee, and both bodies vote again on the new bill. Then the president signs it.

For the health care bill, back in 2009, the House and Senate had each passed different versions. It was widely expected the two bills would be stitched together in conference committee, then voted on again. But before that could happen, the Democrats lost their 60-seat, filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. (Republican Scott Brown in January 2010 won the seat formerly held by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.) Anything that came out of conference committee at that point could have been held up in the Senate, blocked by 40 Republican senators.

Democrats decided to get around this by having the House simply accept the Senate’s version of the bill. Obama signed that version into law. Then the Democrats used a different measure -- a reconciliation bill, which requires only a simple majority -- to modify the law they had passed.

The House version of the bill -- the one that never made it to conference committee -- did have amendments, particularly as it was considered by committees. In fact, Pitts himself offered one of them, a provision restricting abortion coverage. (It was better known as the Stupak amendment because it was co-sponsored by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich.) Several Senate versions of the bill also had amendments.

But Pitts is right that the Senate version -- the one voted on in December that became the basis of the new law -- did not have amendments.

This is because Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, decided to create a new version of the bill in the form of a manager’s amendment. At that point in the process, negotiations with Senate Republicans had gone on for months, and it seemed very likely that none of the Republicans were going to support the Senate bill, with amendments or not.

We should note that President Barack Obama claimed back in September 2009 that legislation in the works was bipartisan. At the time, we rated his characterization Barely True. (It would now be called Mostly False.) The two parties were never very close together on what a new health care law should include.

Our ruling

Pitts said, "This was a 2,733-page bill that went directly from Harry Reid's desk to the Senate floor, bypassed Senate committee, no amendments, passed on a partisan vote, directly from the Senate floor to the House floor, bypass the committees, no amendments, passed on a partisan vote, without one member having read this bill."

As far as the number of pages go, Pitts is largely correct. If we’re going to put an official page count on the bill, we would put it at 2,464, but we recognize that the bill had several different versions as it was on its way to becoming a law.

As for "no amendments," Pitts is right as it related to the floor passage of the Senate bill. There were no amendments to the bill that passed.

But that’s like describing only the last two minutes of a football game. What about the other 58?

The health care bill began in committee in both chambers of Congress, as virtually all bills do. There was ample opportunity to amend it, and the bill was in fact amended by both Democrats and Republicans, if only mostly on technicalities by the party opposed to it.  

But Pitts made a blanket statement that there were "no amendments," without taking the earlier part of the process into account. Given all that, we rate the claim Half True.

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