GOP’s far-right flank demands ‘Hastert Rule’ fealty

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GOP's far-right flank demands 'Hastert Rule' fealty
GOP's far-right flank demands 'Hastert Rule' fealty
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I’ve been keeping a close eye on “Hastert Rule” developments in the House. As it turns out, plenty of Republicans have been doing the same thing.

To briefly recap for those just joining us, the “Hastert Rule” tells Republican Speakers to only bring bills to the floor that most of their 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.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) stuck to the non-binding, informal “rule” in the last Congress, but over the last two months, he’s ignored it three times. Far-right GOP lawmakers have noticed and have begun demanding the leadership honor the “Hastert Rule” – or else.

GOP Arizona Reps. Matt Salmon and David Schweikert implored fellow Republicans to vote no on party-backed procedural measures when leadership intends to pass bills that are opposed by most GOP legislators.

In an op-ed in Monday’s The Washington Times, Salmon wrote, “From this point forward, I will vote against the rule for bills that increase spending without offsetting spending cuts … if House leadership brings any more bills to the floor without first securing the support from the majority of the GOP conference, I will take the same action.”

He added that “if enough of my conservative colleagues in the House join me, we can unilaterally put an end to the growth of government that is moving us closer to Greece-like fiscal calamities.”

Later in the day, Schweikert, one of four lawmakers ousted from plum committee assignments after the 2012 election, released a “Dear Colleague” memo making the same argument.

Far-right activists are also getting involved, with the Club for Growth yesterday calling on House Republicans to use procedural efforts – most notably, a tactic called “voting against the rule” – to block bills that sidestep the “Hastert Rule.”

I suspect this seems like inside baseball, but I continue to think there’s a larger significance to this. Indeed, conservatives wouldn’t be raising such a fuss if this didn’t matter.

As we’ve discussed, if Boehner, in the name of getting stuff done, is open to bringing important bills to the floor, and passing legislation even when most of his own members disapprove, the next two years will be far less ridiculous than the last two. If we’ve seen the last of the exceptions, and the integrity of the “Hastert Rule” will now be restored, very little, if any, meaningful legislation will pass over the next 21 months.

Of course, if Boehner is prepared to keep ignoring the rule when it suits his purposes, and his own members revolt, we also have the makings of a very serious intra-party conflict.

As for how this so-called rule came to be, my colleague Nazanin Rafsanjani and I have been doing some preliminary research, and it seems Hastert, during his fairly long tenure, committed to this majority-of-the-majority decree gradually and informally. There are certain House Republicans rules that are debated and approved by the caucus – remember the “DeLay Rule,” referring to members under indictment serving in the GOP leadership? – but the research so far suggests the “Hastert Rule” was never one of them.

Indeed, though Hastert became House Speaker in 1999, the phrase didn’t appear in a Washington Post article until late 2006 – a month before Republicans lost their majority in a Democratic wave – and never appeared in a Roll Call article until Nancy Pelosi had the gavel.

It’s not as if Hastert one day held a press conference to declare, Bill Maher style, “OK, folks, new rule….” It seems to have been a more subtle tactic that evolved gradually into something Republicans took quite seriously.

For the record, Hastert was Speaker for eight years, and I only turned up two examples of him deliberately ignoring his own rule: a bill allowing federal funding for stem cell research and the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform proposal.

Hastert Rule, Dennis Hastert and John Boehner

GOP's far-right flank demands 'Hastert Rule' fealty

Updated