Upon learning that his party’s House leadership would throw in the towel on the debt ceiling, Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) turned to Twitter to register his dissatisfaction. And in a way, the Kansas Republican raised a credible point.
Huelskamp noted, for example, that House Republican leaders were effectively abandoning the so-called “Hastert Rule” and “Boehner Rule” – in this case, at the same time. The congressman wondered whether GOP lawmakers were prepared to “abandon principles” altogether.
As a matter of substance and policy outcomes, Huelskamp’s opposition to raising the debt ceiling is simply untenable, but his observation about broken “rules” is nevertheless interesting. In fact, I think he missed one.
Yesterday, with one simple vote, House Republicans apparently decided to ignore three “rules” they previously characterized as important.
* The Hastert Rule: By the standards the GOP imposes on itself, a Republican Speaker of the House 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.
But in this case, House Republicans overwhelmingly opposed a debt-ceiling increase, a detail Boehner ignored en route to passing the bill with largely Democratic support. It’s the fifth time Boehner has blown off the “Hastert Rule” this Congress, suggesting the “rule” is effective no more.
* The Boehner Rule: In 2011, John Boehner declared that for the foreseeable future, his party would demand dollar-for-dollar cuts as a condition for paying the nation’s bills. In other words, if the debt limit needed to be raised by $1 trillion, Democrats had to give the GOP $1 trillion in cuts.
As a substantive matter, the “Boehner Rule” was largely gibberish and was not rooted in any sound policy rationale. And as of yesterday, when the Speaker originally wanted spending increases in exchange for a higher debt limit, the “rule” is dead.
* The Three-Day Rule: When House Republicans were in the minority, they condemned Democratic practices of quickly putting legislation together behind closed doors, rushing it onto the floor, and having members vote on it before members could realistically claim to have actually read the bill itself. GOP officials said such legislative tactics would never occur on their watch, and upon taking the majority, Republicans instituted a “three-day rule” – bills would be subject to at least three days of scrutiny before a vote.
That, too, has been cast aside. Yesterday morning, House Republican leaders announced what the debt-ceiling bill would include, and just seven hours later, the bill was on the floor, receiving a vote.
To be sure, it’s worth emphasizing that none of these “rules” are actually rules. We’re talking more about informal procedural guidelines House Republicans created, largely for political reasons, and then imposed on themselves. They’re welcome to honor or break them whenever they please.
But going forward, it should nevertheless be clear to everyone on Capitol Hill that House Republicans see their own “rules” as little more than suggestions, which can be cast aside for expediency whenever GOP leaders feel like it.
When it comes to immigration reform – or ENDA, or renewing the Voting Rights Act, or raising the minimum wage – there’s nothing in the “rules” that should stop the House Republican leadership from bringing measures to the floor and letting the House work its will.
UPDATE: Related video: