Revisiting the House and Senate Votes on “Obamacare”

With the Supreme Court’s ruling on the constitutionality of President Obama’s health care reform law expected Thursday, below we revisit the congressional votes on The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). The votes in both the Senate and the House adhered to William Riker’s size principle, which states that winning coalitions will be minimal. In the Senate, 60 votes were required to invoke cloture and move to a vote on the bill (recall that Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) campaigned as the 41st vote to stop “Obamacare”).

As in the Senate, all House Republicans opposed passage of the Affordable Care Act. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was able to hold onto enough Democrats – 219 – to pass “Obamacare” in the House. However, Democrats in swing or Republican-leaning districts who voted “Yea” paid a high political price.

The spatial (geometric) model of choice excels in classifying both chambers’ votes on the Affordable Care Act. We use members’ DW-NOMINATE scores to plot both votes. DW-NOMINATE produces no classification errors in the Senate, and does a good job at dividing the moderate-conservative bloc of House Democrats who voted “Nay” from the remainder of the caucus.

Congressional voting patterns on the Affordable Care Act stand in contrast to prior votes on major pieces of legislation which passed with bipartisan and cross-ideological support.

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