Real life House of Cards in House of Representatives

CNNMoney
Friday, March 28, 2014 - 9:58am

What happened in the House Thursday was something out of an episode of the television series "House of Cards," a show about intrigue and sneaky deals in the nation's capital.

Facing defeat on a bill to head off major cuts to physicians who treat Medicare patients, House GOP leaders abruptly pulled it from the floor Thursday morning. They called a recess, sending most members back to their offices to await word on the schedule for the day.

Republican and Democratic leaders huddled behind closed doors. Then, a surprise move. While people were still in their offices, the same bill was brought up and quickly passed by a voice vote. Members were caught off guard when they showed up on the House floor and learned the bill had passed.

Both parties were in cahoots on the unusual legislative maneuver circumventing an actual roll call vote on the measure.

Senate Democrats and House Republicans have been at loggerheads over how to prevent an annual cut in federal reimbursements to Medicare doctors. Leaders on both sides worked on a one year deal that would punt talks on a permanent solution until after the midterm election.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid negotiated the temporary so called "doc fix" with top House Republicans to avoid any impact on seniors' medical care. But many House conservatives objected to the fix because of its cost. That meant GOP leaders needed a bloc of House Democrats to get it through. House Democrats, however, were also split on the measure because many wanted a longer term deal. Leaders were in a quandary. Monday is the deadline to fix the cuts to Medicare doctors, and the House was about to leave town for the weekend.

Rep. Gerry Connelly of Virginia said he and other Democrats who happened to be on the floor were totally surprised when they heard the same bill that was pulled earlier was coming up for a vote. He and other Democrats quickly yelled "no," but the gavel came down and the presiding officer announced the bill passed.

Asked if the move was sneaky, Connelly avoided criticizing his own leaders, but quoted TV politician Frank Underwood, the main character of House of Cards, "'you might say that, you might very well say that, but I cannot comment.'"

Even those who wanted an actual vote faced a dilemma because if the bill failed seniors across the country would be angry at Congress for not coming up with a solution.

Republican Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana, a physician, opposed the bill and the process that let it go through so suddenly. But he admitted he knew GOP leaders were talking about this strategy.

"Many of us like me don't like it enough to vote for it, but the problem is, if we kill it, if we let it go down, then all of the sudden it expires and 24% cuts across the board to physicians occur," Fleming told reporters.

One exasperated Democrat, Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont, asked about what transpired, said "I didn't know it happened. You know what - we should be voting on it."

Texas Republican Louie Gohmert, speaking on the House floor later on Thursday, said he was convinced he and other opponents secured enough votes to block the short term deal so he went back to his office when the recess was called.

When the vote happened Gohmert didn't make it back in time to object, and he decried the tactic, saying, "you need to be able to trust your own leadership."

Pressed whether the move undermined the democratic process, Fleming replied, "it does, but again this is what leadership gave us on both sides."

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