filibuster

The Real Hastert Rule

Thumb through the U.S. Constitution and you won't find the Hastert Rule, which says no bill can come to the House floor unless there are enough votes to pass it in the majority caucus. Turns out former Speaker Dennis Hastert, a former high school wrestling coach, said there never was a Hastert Rule.

This is relevant because current House Speaker John Boehner has invoked the Hastert Rule in blocking legislation that might attract enough Republicans and Democrats to pass, but doesn't have enough votes to pass with just Republicans.

Sound illogical? Perhaps, but it is the leverage exerted by the Tea Party faction of the House GOP conference. They have enough votes to deny Boehner the 218 vote-majority he needs of his fellow party members. This leverage is what has landed Congress in gridlock and led to a partial federal government shutdown, now entering its fourth day.

Republican spokesmen have made a lot out of President Obama and Senate Democrats refusing to negotiate to "find common ground" on defunding Obamacare. But another way to look at the stalemate is that the House is not letting is full membership exercise its collective judgment in deference to a minority that could be as few as 30 members.

Apart from the grandstanding and finger pointing on Capitol Hill, there is a valid question about whether the presumptive Hastert Rule is constitutional or at least in the spirit of the Constitution.

James Madison and other founding fathers detested what they called "factions." They worried that partisan considerations could overtake policy considerations. While senators have the right to filibuster any legislation of which they disapprove, no such privilege extends in the House.

Senator Cruz Does Custer

You know something must be wrong when a U.S. senator threatens to filibuster the bill he supports to win. That's exactly what Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, proposes to do to block implementation of Obamacare.

Cruz has been barnstorming the country to put the fear of God in his fellow Republicans to make one last stand to block the Affordable Care Act, President Obama's signature first-term achievement, before it goes fully into effect.

The vehicle for this derailment of a three-year-old law, which has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, is something called a Continuing Resolution, essentially a catch-all funding bill that will allow the federal government to continue to operate when its new fiscal year begins October 1.

Last week, the GOP-controlled House muscled through a Continuing Resolution that would defund Obamacare. Senate Democrats, who control the upper chamber, scoffed at the idea and plan simply to amend the House-passed Continuing Resolution by deleting the Obamacare defunding provision. No problem, you say, since Democrats hold 54 seats and the amendment only requires 51 votes to pass.

Here is where Senate procedures come into play. Senators reserve the right to filibuster. A filibuster can be halted by a cloture vote, which requires 60 votes. Cruz is gambling he can round up 41 of the 45 Senate Republicans to join him in blocking cloture. He believes Senate Democrats will have little choice but to yield and ultimately agree to the House-passed Continuing Resolution.