By Russell Berman - 03/27/14 01:37 PM EDT
Angry House conservatives denounced the Republican leadership for abruptly ramming through a fix to Medicare doctor payments on Thursday without a full roll call vote.
“Outrageous,” Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) told The Hill after complaining about the maneuver to a colleague. “I think it’s outrageous.”
House Republican leaders had planned to bring up the “doc fix” under a procedure requiring a two-thirds majority to pass, but after a series of closed-door meetings on Thursday morning, they determined they didn’t have the votes to meet that threshold and didn’t want to stay in session long enough to set up a simple majority vote.
So with just a few members on the House floor before a scheduled vote on an unrelated Ukraine measure, Republicans brought up the Medicare bill by voice vote. When no one in the chamber objected, the measure passed.
“Bullshit,” said a visibly annoyed Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) as he emerged from the floor following the Ukraine vote. When Mulvaney was asked to comment about the upcoming GOP budget, he replied: “I can’t talk about the budget because I’m so pissed about the [doc fix].”
The measure is an annual delay to the sustainable growth rate formula that this time would prevent a 24 percent cut in Medicare reimbursement payments to doctors set to begin at month’s end. The change is broadly supported by Republicans and Democrats most years, but it drew opposition from the American Medical Association, which has pushed for a long-term solution to the problem instead of annual patches. House and Senate leaders have agreed on a resolution to repeal the formula, but they can’t agree on how to pay for the $180 billion cost over a decade, necessitating the stopgap measure.
Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), a member of the “Doctor’s Caucus” that opposed the bill, said he didn’t like the maneuver but did not object because, he said, the alternative of payment cuts to doctors was worse.
“This would affect millions of seniors across the country in a very negative way,” he said.
“I didn’t like the way we did that,” Fleming added. “They gave us a choice between something bad and something worse.”
Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) voiced his displeasure on Twitter, writing: “Short on votes for controversial spending bill, so GOP & Dem leaders rammed it through by ‘voice vote’ in empty House chamber. Not right.”
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was not in Washington on Thursday, but spokesman Michael Steel said he was kept apprised of the discussions and did not object to the voice vote. He had told reporters on Wednesday a temporary doc fix was needed but held out hope for an eventual long-term agreement.
While the maneuver undermines pledges of transparency by the House GOP leadership, aides quipped that it was a rare show of bipartisan cooperation.
Democratic leaders signed off on the move, and rank-and-file members were more amused than anything else.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said he was one of just a handful of Democrats on the floor when the voice vote occurred and that he was surprised when no recorded vote was requested.
“There was a voice vote and you could hear 'nos' all from our side of the aisle,” he said.
He said it was his understanding that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) office pushed House leaders to not require a recorded vote because it was necessary to send some form of the doc fix to the upper chamber quickly.
“There were concerns raised by the Senate side,” he said. “They don't have the votes for an alternative. And then the alternative is everything expires and doctor's fees are negatively affected March 31.”
Asked if the maneuver was sneaky, Connolly quoted the fictional Frank Underwood, a master of Washington subterfuge from Netflix's "House of Cards" series.
“To quote the ‘House of Cards,’ you might say that, you might very well say that. But I cannot comment,” he quipped.
“I've been dying to do that,” he added.
Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the retiring dean of the House, mused to reporters, “I’ve seen a lot of dumb things, but I’ve never seen anything as comical as this.”