The Real Hastert Rule

Former GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert says there never was a Hastert Rule that blocked the true majority of the House to vote its will.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.

Hastert, the longest serving Republican speaker in history, said he only held bills from House floor votes until he was sure they had the required 218 votes to pass. In many case, he didn't worry which side of the political aisle delivered those 218 votes.

A plainspoken politician, Hastert said a good portion of his job was to find compromise, not ways to get quoted on the nightly news. He also believes in regular order, including resolving budget differences by the deadline, which is April 15, not September 30, when the federal fiscal year ends.

"If let somebody logjam the process," Hastert said, "then it becomes a big problem at the end."

“I don’t want to overmanage John Boehner. I’m not in his shoes," Hastert said. "But when we had things that were tough to do, I was constantly engaged — sitting at the table, bringing in conservatives, moderates. You can’t be in Congress and shut down government and get anything done. It’s an oxymoron.”

Maybe House Republicans are following the wrong Hastert rule.

Tags:    Dennis Hastert, John Boehner, Barack Obama, Senate Democrats, federal government shutdown, filibuster, political compromise, Tea Party, factions, founding fathers, Constitution, CFM Federal Affairs