Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4302, a bill preventing a 24 percent cut in what physicians are paid under Medicare for 12 months. It’s the annual “doc fix” dance.
On the bill’s merits, Heritage health scholar Robert Moffit gave careful review of the legislation yesterday. Essentially, The Heritage Foundation would give the legislation a “B” for some good policy changes but a “D” on the financing because the House falls back on budget gimmicks to pay for the 12-month “doc fix.”
The process by which the House considered and passed the legislation, however, is concerning. All day, the Members filed to the House floor making statements on the merits of the bill, fully expecting the conclusion to be a roll-call vote. That vote did not happen, however, when the time allotted for debate expired and, as the afternoon wore on, news outlets were reporting that House leadership may not have the votes for passage.
Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, the presiding Member of Congress in the chair on the House floor called for and executed a voice vote. Reporters and members on both sides of the aisle were clearly surprised by the voice vote; many Members had been working in their offices awaiting the bells that signify a roll-call vote.
No one envies House leadership’s job in corralling votes from Members with many different perspectives. Add in the fact that numerous expiring provisions with tight deadlines—such as the doc fix—further ramps up the pressures and can make legislative short cuts tempting. It should be resisted.
For democracy to work its will in the House of Representatives, a transparent legislative process is essential. Waiving a roll-call vote and moving to voice-vote passage should be acceptable only when, at a minimum, advance notice has been given with time allotted for those who might object to come to the floor to make their “nays” heard. When that doesn’t happen, as it did not for some Members yesterday—trust is eroded and democratic representation is inhibited. We are better than that.