Some conservatives are up in arms over a hurried Thursday vote on the so-called “doc fix” for Medicare, which they felt leadership tried to slip by them.
The bill passed in a 30-second voice vote with very few members on the House floor.
The “doc fix” is a temporary patch to prevent a 24 percent cut to the amount of money the government pays doctors who take care of Medicare patients. The cut will take effect on April 1 if Congress does not move to prevent it.
Owing to the tight deadline, leadership opted to bring the bill straight to the floor “under suspension of the rules,” meaning it needed a two-thirds vote to pass — a higher threshold than the normal simple majority. But it was not clear that a sufficient number of votes could be found.
The bill is somewhat controversial — some lawmakers want to strike a deal for a more permanent solution. Others, like Kansas Republican Rep. Tim Huelskamp, think the way the patch is paid for — which partly involves shifting sequester cuts to Medicare from 2025 to 2024 — is a “gimmick.”
But the potential to not get enough votes turned out not to be an issue. Instead, most members did not get to vote at all.
Shortly after noon, the bill was passed by voice vote, with the chair — Republican Rep. Steve Womack — deciding that two-thirds of the very few members in the room had said “aye.” Most members were unaware the vote was taking place and missed it, as did quite a few reporters.
Some of the more conservative members on the Republican side, who were not necessarily going to vote for the fix, took issue with the way the vote was handled.
“I think they pulled a fast one,” Kansas Republican Rep. Tim Huelskamp, who had planned to vote against the temporary fix, told The Daily Caller. Huelskamp was in his office, getting ready to go over to the vote that he thought was going to happen in a few minutes, when he learned they had had a voice vote.
Leadership, he said, “misled conservatives and all of the Republican conference.”
He called the temporary doc fix a “gimmick,” and said passing it was “exactly what the Republican leadership totally and honestly promised they were not going to do on this issue.”
“This has become the way they operate,” he said of party leadership, calling the vote “disappointing.”
Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert voiced his displeasure in a floor speech following the vote — calling the vote “a surprising twist.”
He likened the move to the way the House was run in 2007 and 2008 when Democrats had control, when he would make sure to come back early from the weekend so he could be present to object or insist on a roll call vote if leadership tried to pass something in this manner.
“So I was very surprised today that with us in the majority, our own leadership in charge, something as important as the doctor fix would be brought to the floor on a voice vote,” Gohmert said.
“Now I know that I need to get with some other members and make sure we have people on the floor, since we won’t be sure what our own leadership is going to do,” he went on. “That’s very unfortunate. It’s unfortunate. You need to be able to trust your own leadership.”
Georgia Republican Rep. Paul Broun was more blunt: “I consider it a step backwards for democracy,” he said in a statement to TheDC. “This Putin-esque behavior is an example of why I voted against Boehner as Speaker of the House.”
“It’s disappointing and it shouldn’t have happened,” said Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador, in a statement to TheDC.
Michigan Republican Rep. Justin Amash had a similar take.
“Short on votes for controversial spending bill, so GOP & Dem leaders rammed it through by ‘voice vote’ in empty House chamber. Not right,” Amash tweeted Thursday afternoon.
Conservatives were not the only ones who took issue with the vote.
“I’ve seen a lot of dumb things, but I’ve never seen anything quite as comical as this,” Democratic Michigan Rep. John Dingell told Roll Call.
According to a senior House aide, there was nothing deceptive about the way the vote went through. A handful of members on both sides of the aisle were opposed to the bill, but most did not want to hold up the bill given the Monday deadline.
Republicans, in particular, were aware that the bill would likely only get less conservative if it was altered. The decision to hold a voice vote was agreed to by both sides of the aisle.
Before the voice vote happened, the senior aide said, Republican leadership met with a number of the most vocal opponents in the conference — largely doctors — and let them air their concerns and informed them that the bill would be brought up as a voice vote, giving them the option to come to the chamber and insist on a roll call vote.
Leadership was confident that if that had happened, they would have had the votes.
“If somebody had called for a roll call vote,” a leadership aide told TheDC, “we would have had that vote and it would have passed.”