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The “Hastert Rule” Doesn’t Exist

Capitol Building Dusk

Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, who left Congress shortly after the GOP lost control of Congress in the 2006 elections, has been the topic of a lot of conversation in recent weeks due to something called the “Hastert Rule.” Under this rule attributed to the former Speaker, Republican Speakers won’t bring a bill to the floor unless it can garner the support of a majority of the GOP Caucus. It was allegedly because of this rule that the bill to provide relief to victims of Hurricane Sandy was pulled from the floor at the last minute in December 2012, much to the anger of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. It has also played a role in the ongoing crisis on Capitol Hill as the explanation for why Speaker Boehner has not brought the “clean” Continuing Resolution passed by the Senate to the floor. While that CR would pass, it would pass largely because of Democratic support and would likely not garner a majority of the GOP Caucus. It hamstrings Boehner in what he can do, and is clearly influencing how he is proceeding in dealings with the Senate and the President. There’s just one problem, Dennis Hastert says there there is no such thing as the “Hastert Rule”:

“Lookit, the Hastert rule didn’t exist,” former House speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said in an interview Thursday. “What happened is you lined up 218 votes.”

The idea gained traction after Hastert made an offhand comment during a 2006 press conference on an immigration bill, when he was asked by a reporter if he would consider moving the legislation with Democratic support. Hastert replied that that is “something I would not generally do,” adding he preferred to push legislation that enjoyed the backing of a majority of the Republican Conference.

“When I used the term ‘majority of the majority,’ that was in one specific case,” said Hastert, who is now a senior adviser at the law firm Dickstein Shapiro.

Hastert declined to say whether Boehner was right to stick to this approach in the current budget standoff, though he suggested it made no sense to team up with Democrats to advance their agenda at the expense of the GOP’s.  ”You don’t go to the other party to move their philosophy. You’ve got to move your party’s philosophy.”

And he faulted both parties for failing to get the needed spending bills done on time, since that sets up a situation where ” people are playing these games to get what they want to get” given the urgent need to keep the government operating. “That’s the real problem,” Hastert said. “If you don’t have regular order, you get jammed up in the end.”

There are, quite obviously, good reasons for a Speaker of any party to be careful about what bills he brings to the floor. For one thing, there’s a danger in relying too heavily on votes from the opposition for the passage of any bill because that makes it very easy for said opposition to embarrass the Speaker by not voting in favor of it, thus essentially giving them powerful leverage over the majority party’s legislative agenda when it comes to bills that are controversial within the majority party. For another, Speakers are dependent upon the votes of their Caucus to win the Speakership and, under the right circumstances, subject to possibly being deposed if they lose enough support in that caucus to fall below a majority of the membership of the House of Representatives. Acting against the will of the majority of your own caucus is, therefore, potentially the path to political suicide.

At the same time, though, blind adherence to a rule that requires a “majority of the majority” for every vote makes no sense at all. For example, under the current breakdown of membership in the House (232 Republicans, 200 Democrats, and 3 vacancies), that potentially gives a group comprising just over 26% of the membership of the House veto authority over the agenda which is simply ridiculous. Furthermore, as Hastert notes, passing legislation in the House requires a majority of the whole membership of the House and there have long been times in American history where getting to that number means getting votes from the opposing party in order to get to that number (217 under the current House makeup). It happened during the Reagan years with the President’s tax bills, for example, which Reagan had to find a way to get passed in a House that had a larger Democratic majority than Republicans enjoy today. It worked in part because Reagan was able to sell his bill to the public, and they put pressure on Democratic legislators. Similar things have happened with close legislation in the past such as the Bush Tax Cuts, Medicare Part D, and TARP. Now, one can find problems with each of those pieces of legislation depending on where you sit politically, the point is that the legislative process by which they became law required reaching across the aisle to get the necessary votes.

There’s really only one reason that Boehner isn’t putting the “clean” CR on the floor, and it has nothing to do with the “Hastert Rule.” It’s because he knows his Speakership would potentially be over if he did so.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. mantis says:

    Big news. The Republican clown car runs on bullshit. And with terrible gas mileage.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 30 Thumb down 1

  2. john personna says:

    As I say, Boehner may be playing this with his planning calendar open.

    Allowing a full vote on the clean spending CR last week certainly would have ended his speakership.

    What happens with a clean CR next week is less clear.

    If the teas are going nowhere, it might even look good for Boehner, esp. if the Democrats throw some bone into the CR for face saving.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  3. David M says:

    I think the HuffPo list of GOP congressman on record as being willing to support a clean CR is now at 21. It will probably take more than 30, but hopefully less than 60 to force a vote.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  4. john personna says:

    By the way, forking over New Jersey hurricane victims to preserve the idea of a rule which is not a rule … particularly nasty.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  5. al-Ameda says:

    Translation: Hastert does not want to be associated with the current Republican Fukushima-Reactor-Meltdown Water Supply.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 0

  6. legion says:

    That “rule” always pissed me off. The job of the Speaker of the House is running the House. The job of running the party is for the majority/minority leader and the whips. If they can’t line up the votes, why make it the Speaker’s responsibility?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  7. becca says:

    Trotting out Denny, in the race to save face? Toss Boehner a life jacket?

    The tea wing has gone full Bolshy. Never create a toxin for which there is no antidote.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  8. Neil Hudelson says:

    Hmm, Pelosi as Speaker pushed–and passed–major climate change legislation, and the Affordable Care Act, knowing damn well that it would certainly make re-election difficult for quite a few members of her caucus, and could (would) ultimately cost her her job as Speaker. She did it it anyway.

    I wonder how it feels for Republicans to know that their leader’s testiclular fortitude is minuscule compared to an ultra liberal woman from San Francisco.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 50 Thumb down 0

  9. grumpy realist says:

    That fig-leaf covering Boehner’s private parts is getting awfully tattered….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  10. Davebo says:

    @Neil Hudelson:
    They’ve known for quite a while. Their supporters have too.

    Neither care. Remember, we’re talking about children here.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  11. Moosebreath says:

    Who are you going to believe, Hastert or your lying eyes?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  12. James Pearce says:

    It’s because he knows his Speakership would potentially be over if he did so.

    At this point, it’s unclear who needs Boehner as Speaker most: John Boehner, or the Tea Party caucus that dictates his behavior.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  13. Ron Beasley says:

    How long will the rethuglicans be able to hold out after Karen slams the red states.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  14. Bob @ Youngstown says:

    The thing that chaps my a** is that Boehner is subverting the democratic process to maintain his ego.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  15. Jay says:

    Wrestling coaches. I’m sure that some of them are perfectly fine people. But there’s a reason that you would want them to, you know, coach wrestling, which they might know something about, rather than run the country, which they are clearly not competent to do.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  16. john personna says:

    Maybe I’m calling it a little early, but I think it is over. This is the Republicans’ Wile E Coyote moment. They’ve run off the cliff, are standing on air, and about to hold up the little “help!” sign.

    Ted Cruz, super genius.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 0

  17. john personna says:

    (Their “but we have to get something,” is like a loser holding a lottery ticket saying “but I have to have won.”)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  18. Fog says:

    Oh, Ron, you silly goose. Somebody in Pensacola must have had gay sex last week. So we deserve it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  19. Rob in CT says:

    @john personna:

    I really, really, really hope you are right. But I suspect that Wily E. will look down and see solid ground where none actually exists. Falling? Who is falling. YOU’RE falling, Obummer! Nya-nya.

    Seriously.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  20. Vast Variety says:

    Would be interesting if there was a rule that gave the minority party a way to force a floor vote of the clean CR.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  21. rudderpedals says:

    @Vast Variety: I think it was in one of Ezra Klein’s posts that the minority could do this after it 1) filed a bill and 2) waited 7 or 30 days. Only after the waiting period has passed can a majority of members file a discharge petition bringing the bill to the floor over the Speaker’s objection.

    Someone who actually knows this stuff ought to chime in…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. john personna says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Once Boehner said he wouldn’t allow default, it was over. That gave a fixed deadline, and one not too far away.

    The President was convincing that he could suffer shutdown until that deadline.

    And so … the only thing left is a catharsis on the right. Perhaps that’s what Boehner wanted. Once the Tea Party put him in this position, he had to use shutdown, and the default deadline, to break them.

    If the Teas demand default they will *really* drive away any remaining sane supporters.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  23. john personna says:

    I must say also that I got out of the Republican party at the right time (and before the rush) in the early 2000s. I saw the GWB regime as dangerous and anti-democratic, and turned in my loyalty card.

    I think we can say now that “sane Republicans” who tried to “work within the party” did it wrong.

    All they did was provide “sane cover” for insane actions, leading to this.

    The same goes for any libertarians who provided weak defense for the crazy party along the way.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  24. john personna says:

    “Sane Republicans” have been enablers for about 10 years now.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  25. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @john personna:

    If the Teas demand default they will *really* drive away any remaining sane supporters.

    Well John, there are only 2 more and their both in comas in Texas. Their chances of dying are better than their chances of changing their minds.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. john personna says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    No, they still have the businessmen who mostly think about their work day, their project deadline, and catch Fox News in the gaps.

    Weakly connected people like that probably don’t stop to process the shared values of their group. It is (usually) just signifying membership, and moving on the the business portion of the meeting.

    A default threat will wake that group out of their stupor.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  27. Ken says:

    @john personna: I think we can say now that “sane Republicans” who tried to “work within the party” did it wrong.

    All they did was provide “sane cover” for insane actions, leading to this.

    The same goes for any libertarians who provided weak defense for the crazy party along the way.

    Paging Dr. Joyner

    Dr. Joyner to the blue courtesy phone, please

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  28. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @john personna:

    No, they still have the businessmen who mostly think about their work day, their project deadline, and catch Fox News in the gaps.

    John? If they are watching Fox News they are crazy. I know. I’ve tried and it drove me crazy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  29. Ron Beasley says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: I actually watch FOX news occasionally. I don’t believe anything they say but there is a certain entertainment value. In addition it is useful to know what’s bouncing around in the echo chamber.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  30. Rob in CT says:

    Once Boehner said he wouldn’t allow default, it was over. That gave a fixed deadline, and one not too far away.

    Again, I hope you’re right.

    What continues to concern me is that Boehner tends to frame this in a “don’t make me do it” kind of way. Oh, Democrats, don’t make us hit the country. Be reasonable. We can’t allow this terrible thing to happen, so you really need to make concessions. And the Dems cannot allow that.

    So yeah, I’m still a little worried about the possibility of a debt ceiling breach. That said, I’m almost as worried about the Dems possibly conceding something here. This aggression cannot be allowed to stand, man.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  31. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    I actually watch FOX news occasionally.

    You’re a braver man than I, Ron. Either that or you have a really sick sense of humor. 😉

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  32. john personna says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Agreed. At times I am tempted to think that giving some small face saving concession would be rational, I *know* the immediate response would be “we got this, next time we get more.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  33. rudderpedals says:

    IMO the face saving is right there in the CR – it leaves the sequester in place. Moreover, Pelosi conceded the sequestered spending figure yesterday IIRC. Too many concessions and we’re back in asymmetry land where the left gives away the whole store.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  34. Rob in CT says:

    @john personna:

    Exactly this. I’m naturally inclined to compromise. But this MUST end.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  35. al-Ameda says:

    @john personna:

    (Their “but we have to get something,” is like a loser holding a lottery ticket saying “but I have to have won.”)

    I still remember the look on my dad”s face back in November 2012 when he realized that Obama won, despite the claims of FoxNews and many conservative commentators that ‘mainstream’ polling was wrong and Romney was on his way to certain victory – he just couldn’t believe that the game was over.

    I sure hope that that is the case here.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  36. al-Ameda says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    @Ron Beasley:
    I actually watch FOX news occasionally.

    You’re a braver man than I, Ron. Either that or you have a really sick sense of humor. 😉

    Me too. Every time I visit most of my brothers and sisters, and my dad, I watch FoxNews too – it’s on as background constantly.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  37. Rob in CT says:

    @al-Ameda:

    Did this experience plant a seed in his mind that maybe, just maybe, FoxNews and many conservative commentators had been lying to him? And therefore might lie to him again, on other topics?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  38. al-Ameda says:

    @Rob in CT:

    @al-Ameda:
    Did this experience plant a seed in his mind that maybe, just maybe, FoxNews and many conservative commentators had been lying to him? And therefore might lie to him again, on other topics?

    Oh, gosh no.

    My family is very conservative – working class conservative. My father is a retired police officer, and mom and 7 of my 8 brothers sisters are pretty much all in on this shutdown and believe that the GOP is right to leverage the end of ACA to shut the federal government down for awhile. Also, they do not believe the sky will fall if we do not raise the debt limit. They are Eric Cantor and Ted Cruz’s type of base Republicans.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  39. Rafer Janders says:

    @al-Ameda:

    My father is a retired police officer,

    So your father was a unionized public servant who’s now living on a pension provided by taxpayer dollars? And, of course, he’s against unions, public service, taxes and pensions?

    Sadly typical, huh?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  40. al-Ameda says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    So your father was a unionized public servant who’s now living on a pension provided by taxpayer dollars? And, of course, he’s against unions, public service, taxes and pensions?
    Sadly typical, huh?

    Yeah, that is the conservative Republican message these days, isn’t it?
    I definitely find a lot of hypocrisy in his position vis.a.vis public sector employment and benefits.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  41. Rob in CT says:

    @al-Ameda:

    I figured, but I’m always looking for rays of hope.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  42. Woody says:

    Spot on post, Mr Mataconis – entirely correct.

    The GOP Reps are representing the majority of probable voters within their district. Should they not, they will be challenged from the Right in 2014.

    One may not agree with the policy, but there’s no argument over their claim of “delegate” of their District.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  43. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @al-Ameda: Now THAT is what I call “Love”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0