The race for a U.S. Senate seat representing Colorado is one of the most closely watched of the 2014 election. And like other Democrats around the country, incumbent Mark Udall is taking heat for his vote in favor of the Affordable Care Act.
In a Fox News interview on March 31, 2014, Udall’s likely Republican rival, U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, said Udall cast the vote that made the bill now commonly called "Obamacare" law.
"And 335,000 Coloradans lost their health insurance, had their health insurance canceled because of Mark Udall's vote, a vote that decided Obamacare," Gardner told Fox host Neil Cavuto. "He passed Obamacare with his vote."
This is far from the first time a politician has claimed that an opponent’s vote was the deciding vote for the controversial health care bill. Still, we thought we’d check to see whether Udall’s situation was different in any way.
We have checked many claims that different senators were "the deciding vote." Ken Cuccinelli said in November 2013 that U.S. Sen. Mark Warner cast the deciding vote on the Affordable Care Act. An ad in Florida made the same claim about Sen. Bill Nelson, while another made the claim about Udall’s colleague from Colorado, Sen. Michael Bennet. We’ve also looked into the same allegation coming from candidates in Ohio and New Hampshire. All of these senators were inaccurately accused of casting the "deciding" vote. (We should note that PolitiFact Virginia also looked at an instance where the statement about a critical vote was more carefully phrased, and that earned Mostly True.)
As we have in the past, we’ll note that the first Senate vote relevant to the issue came on Dec. 23, 2009. The vote was needed to overcome a filibuster and end debate on the bill, in order to bring it to a vote for final approval. Senate rules require 60 senators to approve such a motion.
This vote received exactly the number of supporters necessary to defeat the filibuster, so having just one fewer vote in support would have indeed been insufficient to pass the Affordable Care Act the next day.
Udall voted with the rest of his party to overcome the filibuster.
"When a bill passes by just one vote, every single senator who voted for it bears responsibility for its passage," said Alex Siciliano, a spokesman for Gardner. "Sen. Udall cannot duck this fact. Without his 'yes' vote, Obamacare would not be law today, and 335,000 Coloradans would not have had their health insurance cancelled."
Still, it’s hard to say that his vote was any more important than those of the other 59 senators who approved the motion, particularly because his vote was not up for grabs until the last moment.
He consistently sided with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in votes relating to the health care law, and he offered several amendments to the bill either as a sponsor or a co-sponsor.
By contrast, then-Sen. Ben Nelson was widely considered a holdout whose late-in-the-game announcement of support was key to the vote’s success.
The second important vote, on Dec. 24, 2009, passed the original version of the Affordable Care Act. This was less of a challenge, since the bill only need a majority of senators to pass. In the end, 60 voted for it, meaning any 10 senators could have been responsible for the bill’s passing.
Finally, on March 25, 2010, the Senate held a vote that officially approved the bill after it had been passed by the House. Udall supported the bill along with 56 other senators, again making it all but impossible to say whether his was the vote that made the difference.
Gardner said Udall "passed Obamacare with his vote." This statement has an element of truth to it, since without Udall’s vote in favor, the bill would not have been able to come up for a vote on Dec. 24, 2009. However, this ignores the other 59 senators who also voted to end debate -- and the exact same thing could be said about them. Because Udall had consistently sided with the Democratic leadership in votes related to the act, he was not among the handful of undecided senators who Reid had to wrangle as the vote was approaching. We rate this claim Mostly False.