The so-called "Hastert Rule" is terrific for party discipline and partisan rule, but it's awful for democracy and governing. And as of this week, its demise may be near.
As we talked about yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) brought a post-Sandy disaster relief bill to the floor this week, and passed it, despite the strong opposition of his own caucus. Though the aid package passed the chamber with relative ease, nearly 80% of the House GOP -- 179 members -- voted against it. This came just two weeks after Boehner also passed a bipartisan fiscal deal over the objections of most of his fellow House Republicans.
Under the non-binding "Hastert Rule," this isn't supposed to happen -- Boehner is only supposed to bring bills to the floor that most of his own caucus supports (measures that enjoy a "majority of the majority"). The idea is, Republicans shouldn't even consider bills if they're dependent on Democratic votes to pass; the real power belongs in the hands of the House GOP's far-right rank and file. And yet, the Speaker has now ignored the rule twice in two weeks.
Though Boehner aides insist these were isolated incidents, not a new normal, it's generating a very interesting conversation on the right about whether the "Hastert Rule" has outlived its usefulness.
"That rule is completely dead," one Republican aide said. "The Democrats now effectively control the floor because nothing 'big' will come to the floor without knowing in advance that lots of Democrats support it. That gives the Democrats tremendous power in a body where the minority is not designed to have much power."
This strikes me as a little excessive, but House Democrats sure seem to have a spring in their step this week. "I'm not sure they can pass anything without us. I love it," Rep. Louise Slaughter, (D-N.Y.) told Roll Call. "That means we can negotiate for a change."
Even former Hastert aides are ready to see the "Hastert Rule" fade away.
John Feehery, a former spokesperson and leading aide in Hastert's office, published a piece today arguing that Boehner can't stick to the rule if he expects to govern.
I think John Boehner won't have much of a choice in these first several months of the 113th Congress. He has to get stuff done. He had to schedule the vote on the tax vote extension. He had to schedule a vote on Sandy relief if he was going to maintain any credibility for the GOP majority. And he will have to extend the debt limit. [...]
The Speaker doesn't have much room to maneuver. His conference is in no mood to compromise, nor in much of a mood to vote for anything that resembles responsible governance.
But as Speaker of the whole House, he has no choice but to schedule things that keep this country from defaulting on its debts and stay open.
The Hastert rule worked pretty well for Denny Hastert, but for the next couple of years, John Boehner might have to think more like Tip O'Neill if he wants to survive with his reputation intact.
In a move that raised eyebrows this morning, Boehner's deputy chief of staff promoted this Feehery piece on Twitter this morning.
This may seem like inside baseball, but it's extremely important. If Boehner, in the name of getting stuff done, is open to bringing important bills to the floor, and passing them with mostly-Democratic support, the next two years will be far less ridiculous than the last two. It means a debt-ceiling crisis is less likely, comprehensive immigration reform is more likely, and meaningful action on preventing gun violence has a credible chance of success.
In other words, if we are witnessing the demise of the "Hastert Rule," there's reason for cautious optimism about the near future.
Expect this to be a major topic of conversation today at the House Republican retreat.