PolitiFact: Sanders misleads in chart on health care bill processes

Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted a graphic that tried to make that argument in stark statistical terms that Senate Republicans are working in secret to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

The graphic, which Sanders tweeted on June 13, 2017, limits its comparison to the Senate, and it looks at 2009 to 2010, when the Affordable Care Act was under consideration, and 2017, for the legislation the Senate is currently working on. (The House has already passed its version, the American Health Care Act.)

Sanders’ graphic said Democrats crafting the Affordable Care Act allowed 160 hours of debate; 100 “committee hearings, roundtables, or walkthroughs”; and more than 171 amendments from the opposite party.

He accuses Republicans now of allowing none of those things. How does the graphic add up? The left column is the more accurate of the two.

On the hours of debate, Steven S. Smith, a political scientist at Washington University in St. Louis, said the numbers seem broadly accurate.

The Senate started debating the bill that became the Affordable Care Act in earnest on Nov. 21, 2009, and passed it on Dec. 24. Between those dates, “the Senate debated the bill nearly every day it was in session,” Smith said.

News reports generally support the idea that there were 100 hours of committee meetings and other types of official events. The New York Times reported that “in June and July 2009, with Democrats in charge, the Senate health committee spent nearly 60 hours over 13 days marking up the bill that became the Affordable Care Act. That September and October, the Senate Finance Committee worked on the legislation for eight days — its longest markup in two decades.”

We previously fact-checked a claim related to Republican amendments. Combining the Republican amendments approved in markups at the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, the number of approved Republican amendments was close to the 171 Sanders’ chart cites.

That said, it’s worth remembering that most of these amendments were technical, and only two of them were passed via the more rigorous roll-call vote process used for more substantive matters.

But Sanders cherry-picks a time frame on the 2017 debate that prevents an equitable comparison. He compares a completed bill with one that hasn’t advanced very far in the process. It’s a case of comparing apples and oranges.

Senate Republicans intend to bring the bill now being written directly to the floor once it’s analyzed for cost and impact by the Congressional Budget Office. That would mean bypassing the typical committee process.

But they want to use a “reconciliation” process, which would enable passage with 51 rather than 60 votes to first cut off debate. If they take this course, there would be 20 hours of floor debate under rules for reconciliation bills.

Twenty hours is significantly less than the 160 hours spent on the Affordable Care Act, but it’s certainly not the zero Sanders suggested. “There will be debate on the current proposal after it is introduced,” said John Cannan, a law librarian at Drexel University who has written about the legislative history of the Affordable Care Act.

This amounts to a flawed comparison and a statistically exaggerated picture.

Our ruling

Democrats in 2009 and 2010 included more active involvement by Republicans than Republicans are allowing in the current debate. But it’s misleading for Sanders to make this point through an apples-to-oranges comparison that will soon be rendered out of date. Under Senate rules, there will be debate and amendments.

We rate the statement in the image Half True.

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