Congress’s Sneaky Maneuver

On Thursday, Congress passed an important bill to fix Medicare payments without a recorded vote.

Gary Cameron/Reuters

So Congress has finally found an easy way to pass controversial legislation that adds to the deficit, doing it by a voice vote when no one is paying attention.

Early Thursday afternoon, the House of Representatives passed the "doc fix" without a recorded vote, which means not one member was forced to take a stand on the legislation. This move happened with bipartisan consent as part of a deal worked out by Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer on behalf of the leadership of both parties. The bill was gavelled through just as the House came into session in a mostly empty chamber.

The doc fix is an attempt to prevent doctors who take Medicare patients from having to take a drastic pay cut. In 1997, Congress passed legislation to try to rein in reimbursements to doctors under Medicare. The formula didn't work as it was tied to economic growth, not the increase in healthcare costs. As a result, doctors would see drastic paycuts of roughly 24% and so, starting in 2003, Congress has passed a series of short term patches to so that doctors would be properly reimbursed.

While Congress has been making progress on a permanent fix to this problem, the deadline on the last fix was at the end of March. If a bill wasn't passed within days, doctors would have serious disincentives to see patients on Medicare. But there were big questions about whether the votes were there. Congressmen from both parties were loathe to do another patch and were pushing for a longterm solution as well as concern about the lack of an offset for the increase in spending.

The reaction from members on both sides of the aisle to the maneuver was virulent. Congressman John Dingell, the Michigan Democrat who is the longest serving member in American history said "I’ve seen a lot of dumb things, but I’ve never seen anything quite as comical as this" while Tea Party Republican Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina simply called it "bullshit."

The doc fix now advances to the Senate where it is expected to pass before the March 31 deadline.