Karl Douglass: The Hastert Rule

October 5, 2013 

It's called the Hastert Rule, but Newt Gingrich used it first. The rule is that the Speaker of the House will not allow the full House of Representatives to vote on a bill unless a "majority of the majority" supports it. This sounds like a reasonable governing principle, but in reality, the Hastert Rule can really gum up the works.

Imagine that instead of the House having 435 members, it has 9. Of those 9, 6 are Republicans and 3 are Democrats. The Speaker of this 9 member House receives a bill from the Senate that is supported by all 3 Democrats and 2 Republicans. Those 5 votes constitute a majority of House members. If given a vote by the full House, the bill would pass.

However, the Speaker in our example follows the Hastert rule. So, he will not bring the bill up for a vote until it is supported by a majority of the majority. That means 3 Republicans must support the bill before he will allow a vote. Until the bill has 3 Republican supporters, the Speaker will let it languish.

Speaker Boehner is letting the Continuing Resolution to fund the government languish because of the Hastert Rule. Since the Speaker will not allow a vote in the full House, the federal government is shutdown. The government could restart tomorrow if the full House of Representatives were allowed to vote. If given a vote by the full House, the Continuing Resolution would pass.

I understand partisan politics. I understand why allowing the Continuing Resolution to pass with only a minority of Republican House members support would create a larger set of issues for Speaker Boehner and the Republican leadership in the House. I especially understand why the Republican leadership in the House continues to offer alternatives to passing the Continuing Resolution that are acceptable to the majority of their majority.

What I do not understand is how Speaker Boehner can see the real effects of the government shutdown and continue to insist on following the Hastert Rule in this case. Some 800,000 federal employees across the nation are not sure when they will receive their next paycheck. Military commissaries are closed. Kids with cancer are being denied treatment. Real people are being affected by the government shutdown because of the insistence of the Speaker to adhere to a political rule.

Since he became Speaker in 2011, John Boehner has set aside the Hastert Rule four times to pass legislation when he believed the greater good outweighed the need to gain support from the majority of the majority. I am certain others strongly disagree, but I believe the Continuing Resolution deserves to become number five.

Karl Douglass, Columbus native and resident, is a frequent commenter on local, state and federal politics. Follow him on Twitter@KarlDouglass or facebook.com/karldouglass.

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