Rep. John Dingell has been serving Michigan in the House of Representatives since 1955, but he says he has never seen anything more comical in all those years than the stunt the House Republican leadership pulled today.

In a piece at Ten Miles Square, former Houston Mayor Bill White anticipated that the House leadership would pass another Medicare doc-fix today, and he criticized them for using a budget gimmick to avoid the hard choices of either raising fees, cutting services, or some combination of both. Instead, Boehner and Cantor decided to put the full cost on the U.S. credit card.

The problem with that, of course, is that their Tea Party contingent came to Congress after promising not to increase the national debt, and apparently there are enough of them that Boehner (once again) couldn’t pass the doc-fix through his chamber.

What followed was interesting:

After temporarily recessing the House, GOP leaders emerged from a closed-door meeting and called up the bill for a voice vote. A recorded vote can be demanded by one-fifth of members present in the chamber, but such an objection wasn’t mounted. So the bill was subsequently declared passed.

A House Republican leadership aide said Democratic leaders were informed in advance of the voice vote, and therefore given the opportunity to object. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) signed off on the GOP leadership’s decision to pass the bill by a voice vote, according to a senior Democratic aide.

Many Republican House members were caught by surprise and were not even on the floor. Here, Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX) complains about what transpired, comparing it to what he considered heavy-handed tactics that the Democrats used when they were in control of the House:

“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. I would have come over earlier except there was a recess, back in session, recess, back in session. I didn’t know how long the recesses were going to be. Now I know that I need to get with some other members and make sure we have people on the floor — make sure we have people on the floor since we won’t be sure what our own leadership is going to do. That’s very unfortunate. It’s unfortunate. Need to be able to trust your own leadership.”

Republican Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina apparently said that the maneuver was “bullish*t.” But this is a consequence of the disconnect between ideology and reality that Mayor White describes in his article:

Years ago President George W. Bush used humor to gloss over the conflict between his tax and spending policies. He began his 2001 State of the Union address by requesting higher spending and vowing to reduce debt by $2 trillion in order to protect “our children and grandchildren.” He then quoted Yogi Berra—“when you come to a fork in the road, take it”—and asked for a massive tax cut. Ever since, spending has followed one fork and tax policy has followed another.

President Reagan said that “there are no easy answers but there are simple answers.” So long as the Republican leaders complain about rising entitlements and debt, and use debt to ease the growth in Medicare, they will not be able to embrace the simple answer of a balanced budget. Instead they will—as Cantor says—set a budget and “figure out how to balance paying the bills.”

As Mayor White also notes, there was a time when John Boehner could be more candid about the disconnect between the Republicans’ rhetoric and what the people actually want.

As Alan Greenspan noted in The Age of Turbulence, John Boehner rationalized the 2003 unfunded expansion of Medicare (at a time when he was the chair of the House Republican Policy Committee) by writing that “the American people did not want a major reduction in government.”

So, I’m guessing that Boehner and Cantor figure that they just saved the Republicans from themselves.

Their rank-and-file may differ on that.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at