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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher May 27, 2015

Russ Feingold cast deciding vote on Obamacare, Ron Johnson says

Shortly after Democrat Russ Feingold announced he would challenge U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson in 2016, setting up a rematch from six years earlier, Johnson outlined how he would define the former three-term senator.

Feingold is a builder of big government, a career politician and a Washington insider, Johnson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in an article published May 19, 2015.

And the first-term Republican pledged:

"I’ll point out Sen. Feingold was the deciding vote on Obamacare. That’s not working out so good for Wisconsinites."

The deciding vote on Obamacare?

The same claim has been made against a number of other Democratic senators over the past five years. Our colleagues have checked five of them -- four were rated Mostly False and one False.

But does the claim apply to Feingold?

The vote

All of the claims center on the penultimate vote in the Senate to approve President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

The vote, taken Dec. 23, 2009, was to invoke cloture -- that is, to cut off debate so that consideration of the health care reform bill itself could proceed. Without that move to prevent Republican filibusters, a final vote on the bill would have been blocked.

Invoking cloture requires 60 votes -- and the Democrats got exactly 60. All 58 Democratic senators, including Feingold, along with two independents voted yes.

The next day,the Senate passed Obamacare. Obama signed the measure into law in March 2010.

Johnson's spokeswoman, Melinda Schnell, argued to us in an email that all 60 votes for cloture were decisive, because any one of the senators "could have, on her or his own, stopped the measure by voting otherwise."

Yes. But Johnson's claim is that Feingold cast the deciding vote, not one of 60 votes.

So was there a single deciding senator? Arguably yes, but not Feingold.

Four days before the cloture vote was held, Senate Democrats announced they had clinched the 60th vote they needed by reaching a compromise with Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Nebraska, who had concerns about abortion-related provisions in the bill. Nelson even appeared at a news conference to explain his position.

Earlier in the process, according to a detailed recounting by the Los Angeles Times, reluctant Democratic Senators Evan Bayh of Indiana and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, as well as Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, were persuaded to vote yes.

In contrast, based on accounts in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and the Boston Globe -- there is no mention that Feingold's vote for cloture was ever in doubt. And Johnson didn’t cite any evidence that it was.

A footnote before we close:

A week before the Obamacare cloture vote, Feingold played a pivotal role on a different cloture vote. Republicans threatened to filibuster an unrelated defense appropriations bill as a way of indirectly delaying the Obamacare measure.

To get around that, according to the Los Angeles Times, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had to convince Feingold -- an opponent of the defense bill -- not to join the Republican blockade. Feingold agreed to vote with his party. The effect was to advance the health care bill.

Our rating

Johnson said Feingold "was the deciding vote on Obamacare."

There is an element of truth in Johnson's claim. Obamacare backers needed 60 yes votes on a crucial vote in the Senate that paved the way for final Senate passage of the health care reform bill. Feingold cast one of those votes.  

But to call it the deciding vote is misleading in that support from Feingold -- unlike some other senators who had to be persuaded to vote yes -- was never in doubt.

We rate Johnson's statement Mostly False. 

Our Sources

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Johnson talks 2016 rematch with Feingold," May 19, 2015

Email interview, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, May 19, 2015

Email exchange, Democratic Party of Wisconsin Communications Advisor
Max Croes, May 19, 2015

PolitiFact Florida, "Was Florida's Bill Nelson "the deciding vote" on the health care law?" (Mostly False), June 14, 2012

PolitiFact Virginia, "Cuccinelli says Warner cast 'the tiebreaking vote' on Obamacare" (Mostly False),  Nov. 25, 2013

PolitiFact New Hampshire, "Jim Rubens claims U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, was the deciding vote to pass Obamacare" (Mostly False), Nov. 19, 2013

PolitiFact National, "In Colorado Senate race, Cory Gardner says Mark Udall 'passed Obamacare with his vote'" (Mostly False), April 15, 2014

PolitiFact Oregon, "Was Jeff Merkley the deciding vote on Obamacare?" (False), May 23, 2014

Los Angeles Times, "How Harry Reid shepherded healthcare reform through the Senate," Dec. 24, 2009

Boston Globe, "Democrats grab final vote for health bill," Dec. 20, 2009

New York Times, "Democrats Clinch Deal for Deciding Vote on Health Bill," Dec. 19, 2009

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More by Tom Kertscher

Russ Feingold cast deciding vote on Obamacare, Ron Johnson says

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