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House Republican leaders embarrassing failure to hold the line against a Medicare-related bill this week raised new questions about whether the rank and file will adopt an every-man-for-himself strategy as the election draws near.
The 355-59 drubbing came despite a personal plea from Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) to rally his caucus against Democratic attempts to shove the so-called Medicare doc fix down the GOPs throat.
While some argue that the bill was a special case, the vote also symbolized a potential turning point in the GOP leaderships ability to hold its troops in line, even on politically difficult votes.
It remains to be seen what it could mean for votes on childrens health care legislation and other measures, with Democrats looking to pad the remainder of the House legislative calendar with issues that could reverberate at the polls.
Boehner made an aggressive push to persuade Members to oppose the doc fix bill during Tuesday mornings weekly GOP Conference meeting including telling one Member to vote no on the bill if he wanted a choice committee assignment. While aides said later that the comment was made in jest, not everyone in the room took it that way.
Boehner also employed the term dead asses in making his pitch, a phrase he used previously when imploring Members to step up their fundraising for the party.
But hours later, 129 Republicans joined with all 226 Democrats present to pass the bill, which would prevent cuts in physician fees under Medicare. Many Republicans switched their vote to yes after it became clear the bill was going to pass overwhelmingly. By that point, Republicans had given up efforts to whip the bill and accepted that they werent able to hold their troops in line.
Republican objections to the bill were rooted in the offsets to pay for the fix, which called for spending reductions to Medicare managed-care plans, and their belief that more palatable legislation is being crafted in the Senate.
While leaders tried to convince Members that they would get another chance to vote on a better bill, uncertainty over whether that would actually happen drove many Republicans to vote yes.
What they should have done was count their votes a little better, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) said. Members didnt want to vote against it if it was going to pass.
Another Republican Member called the decision to try to whip votes against the doc fix an embarrassment on the minority leadership, adding that Boehner and Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) misread where the Conference was on the issue.
This Member also expressed the sense that the bill brought to the floor Tuesday was the best bill Members would have an opportunity to vote on a sentiment that was confirmed by another GOP Member but counter to what leadership was saying.
Highlighting the intensity of Boehners push to his Members Tuesday morning was an exchange he had with Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), an ob-gyn by profession.
While addressing the group, Gingrey questioned whether leaders understood the significance of asking Members to oppose a measure overwhelmingly supported by doctors and medical providers. If they did, he said, they would need to send Members home for the July Fourth recess with talking points to explain themselves.