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By Sean Gorman June 2, 2014

Dave Brat says Eric Cantor voted to "fully fund" Obamacare

Republican congressional candidate Dave Brat says Rep. Eric Cantor is soft on Obamacare.

The two are squaring off in a June 10th GOP primary for the 7th District congressional seat Cantor has held since 2001. Cantor has repeatedly called Brat a liberal. Brat fired the l-word back at his opponent in a radio ad this month.

"He voted to fully fund Obamacare in October," a woman in the ad says of Cantor.

Another woman says, "and he has the nerve to call Dave Brat a liberal? Seems to me he ought to be looking at his own voting record."

The Obamacare charge caught our attention because, as House majority leader, Cantor has been at the center of dozens of Republican attempts to repeal or gut the Affordable Care Act. So we took a look at Brat’s claim Cantor voted to fully fund the law.

Zachary Werrell, Brat’s campaign manager, said the statement was based on Cantor’s vote for a continuing appropriations bill that was enacted last October.

The legislation ended a 16-day federal government shutdown that was caused by partisan warfare over Obamacare. The battle began as Congress faced an Oct. 1 deadline for passing an appropriations bill. House Republicans, including Cantor, initially insisted the bill strip all funding for Obamacare, then fell back to demanding delays in implementing the ACA in exchange for funding essential government programs. The White House and the Democrat-led Senate refused.

The standoff ended on Oct. 16, less than two days before the federal government was scheduled to reach its debt limit and would be unable to borrow money to meet its obligations. Congress passed a measure allowing all federal programs, including Obamacare, to be funded for three months and raising the debt ceiling. The bill passed the House by a vote of 285-144. Cantor was one of 87 Republicans who backed it.

Does that mean Cantor’s support for the appropriations bill was a vote to "fully fund Obamacare"? Budget analysts we spoke with were critical of Brat’s claim.

Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said that "in the narrowest sense" the appropriations act that Cantor backed funded federal programs that included Obamacare.

"But obviously that did not mean either an endorsement of Obamacare or funding for more than a finite period," Ornstein emailed. "And since it was part of a measure to reopen the government, it meant funding a host of things that might be anathema not just to Eric Cantor, but to most other members, D and R."

Maya MacGuineas, the president of the centrist Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said Brat’s statement ignores a key detail: the vast amount funding for Obamacare was not subject to the stopgap funding measure Cantor backed. Most of the ACA, in fact, is not even incorporated in annual appropriations bills.

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That’s because Obamacare largely falls under the mandatory spending portion of the federal budget which consumes about two-thirds of outlays. That category consists of entitlement programs -- Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid -- in which levels of funding are required under law to provide mandated services. It’s a debated question whether Congress can alter these programs through budget bills or is required to change the actual laws that established them.

The remaining third of the federal budget consists of discretionary programs that were deeply affected by the shutdown and subject to annual congressional appropriations. These programs include defense, education, justice and transportation.

Josh Gordon, policy director of the Concord Coalition, a group that advocates balanced budgets, estimated that at least 90 percent of the health care law’s funding comes from mandatory funds that continued flowing during the government shutdown. That’s consistent with findings from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

The CBO in 2011 estimated the ACA would require about $600 billion in mandatory spending from 2012-2021. Discretionary spending for the act was pegged at $110 to $120 billion during that span. The CBO noted that most of those discretionary funds involved spending for programs that existed prior to Obamacare, such as Indian health services and grants to health centers.

So the vast amount of money for Obamacare continued to flow during the government shutdown. MacGuineas said the key vote for fully funding Obamacare occurred several years earlier when Congress passed legislation establishing the ACA as "a new mandatory spending program."

The House was controlled by Democrats in March 2010 when it narrowly approved Obamacare. Cantor and his fellow Republicans unanimously voted against the bill.

Since then, the House has had 52 roll call votes on measures that would either repeal, defund or otherwise limit the ACA. Cantor voted for every one and sponsored two of the repeal bills.

Brat on his website charges that Cantor as the House majority leader has scheduled "meaningless procedural votes so that House members could pretend to be on the record opposing Obamacare."

Our ruling

Brat’s says Cantor voted to "fully fund Obamacare" last October. He’s referring to a temporary appropriations bill that Cantor supported and Congress passed to end a 16-day government shutdown. The measure guaranteed continued funding for discretionary programs that rely on annual congressional appropriations, including defense and education.

But Obamacare was only marginally affected by the shutdown and the bill Cantor backed. That’s because only about 10 percent of its costs are subject to appropriations by Congress. The bill Cantor supported to end the shutdown, among many other things, topped off the ACA’s funding tank.

What Brat omits is that 90 percent of Obamacare remained funded throughout the shutdown and was unaffected by the bill Cantor backed. The legislation that mandated funding for the bulk of Obamacare was approved by the House in March 2010; Cantor voted against it and has repeatedly tried to repeal the measure.  

So Brat’s statement has an element of truth, but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression, We rate it Mostly False.

Our Sources

Dave Brat for Congress, "Dave Brat fights back," May 9, 2014.

Dave Brat for Congress, "Issues," accessed May 14, 2014.

E-mail from Zachary Werrell, campaign manager for Dave Brat for Congress, May 12, 2014.

E-mail from Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, May 13, 2014.

Interview with Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, May 13, 2014.

E-mail from Ray Allen, Jr. advisor to Rep. Eric Cantor, May 14, 2014.

Eric Cantor for Congress, "House votes to defund Obamacare," Sept. 20, 2014.

The Library of Congress (Thomas), H.R. 2775, accessed May 14, 2014.

Government Printing Office , H.J. Res 59, accessed may 16, 2014.

U.S. House roll call vote 478, Sept. 20, 2013.

U.S. House roll call vote 550, Oct. 16, 2013.

Thomas Library of Congress, H.R. 6079, July 7, 2012.

Politico, "Eric Cantor pledges another Obamacare repeal vote," May 3, 2013.

Congressional Research Service, "Potential effects of a government shutdown on implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act," July 29, 2013.

Concord Coalition, "Washington must quickly resolve impasses on federal budget and the debt limit," Oct. 1, 2013.

Congressional Research Service, "Discretionary spending in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA)," July 1, 2013.

Congressional Budget Office, "CBO’s analysis of the major health care legislation enacted in March 2010," March 30, 2011.

Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas W. Elmendorf’s memo to House Speaker John Boehner, July 24, 2012.

Interview with Josh Gordon, policy director at the Concord Coalition, May 19, 2014.

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