House Republicans: Hoist By Their Own Hastert Rule
If we didn’t all have way too much skin in the game, the post-election Republican melt-down might be quite entertaining. Imagine you’re a European with an unhealthy preoccupation with American politics (I know. Seriously?) But just pretend you are.
Hard-right Republicans can be as unhinged, absurd and/or Ick!-worthy as possible and you don’t have to live with the consequences—it’s a post-modern laugh-riot, amirite?
Rep. Lynn Martin (R-IL 1981-1991) is supposed to have said that “the House of Representatives is like a pre-school class that missed nap-time.” The mothers among us know just how apt that statement is. And, I’d venture a guess that the House, during her tenure, was a lot saner than today’s.
Jonathan Chait, of New York magazine, has come up with a rather intriguing explanation as to why grown-ups would want to behave like the House Republicans. He calls it “The House GOP’s Intentional-Losing Strategy.” And I think he’s on to something. Over the years Republicans, especially hard-right Republicans, have saddled themselves with a lot of silly rules, pledges, loyalty oaths and stunt plays designed to protect them from the pain of their (self-imposed) decline in popularity.
We have seen the whole, grisly play book, during the 112th Congress, and, keep in mind, that was at a time when the 2010 mid-term elections had Republicans thinking that they were somehow, magically, back in the saddle again. Emboldened by the belief that they only had to hold out for two more years until they could unseat Obama, we saw record filibusters, outright public demonstrations of disrespect for the President, voter intimidation, gubernatorial power grabs and all-in obstruction of anything Democrats proposed from the Affordable Health Care Act to judicial appointments to tax cuts (payroll tax holiday).
Republicans have now awoken to the realization that not only was their 2010 midterm wave an aberration but their chances of winning a national election, any time soon, are fading away. In the court of public opinion, Congressional Republicans are less popular than chlamydia or cockroaches and, truth be told, the only reason that they were able to hold onto the House majority was by gerry-rigging the gerrymander (and they know it).
Now they find themselves between the proverbial rock and a hard place. They believe that they need to court the more extreme elements of their base because they can’t afford any erosion there. Evidently, the obvious and, no doubt, more effective ways to grow their base—less extremism/more inclusion—are either distasteful or require too much work. Because it is obvious that the only efforts they will make are to appease the wingnuts among them.
That’s where Chait’s theory is pretty compelling. See, Republicans have saddled themselves with the Hastert Rule, aka the “Majority of the Majority” Rule which requires that any bill that passes the House must not only get the 218 votes required for House passage - BUT - a majority of the House Republicans must pass it. So, a bill doesn’t pass with 118 Democrats and 100 Republicans. Get it?
As Chait explains the Hastert rule:
It was basically a codification of the general idea that the party’s most conservative members had a veto over the entire process, that the leadership couldn’t just cut them out of a deal.
But now Republicans are having to live with that absurdity or ditch it. And, last night, Speaker Boehner ditched it for the second time, in a month, to pass the Hurricane Sandy Relief bill despite 179 Republican “Nay” votes. The first time was the recent fiscal cliff vote which more than likely came down to the wire, in the first place, because of the pickle that the Hastert Rule puts the House in.
Next up will be the debt ceiling votes and, as Chait points out, that seems like the perfect opportunity to cut to Let’s-forget-the-Hastert-Rule because of the pressure that the big money boys—the Kochs, the Financial Services Roundtable, the Business Roundtable and the US Chamber of Commerce—are putting on House Republicans to get the debt ceiling raised and out of the way.
Forgetting about “Hastert” certainly is the best face-saving way, in a pinch, because it allows popular legislation to pass on Democratic votes, without the Crazy Caucus upsetting their Crazy Base. For now, anyway. Experience tells us, though, that the Crazy Caucus is feral enough to eventually sniff out sacrifice plays and their appetite for blood can’t be put off indefinitely.
And so many over-hyped events are in the hopper—sequestration? government shutdown? But then what? After you get everyone’s undivided attention, Republicans? What then? What great America-saving policy ideas do you have up your sleeves to prove, once and for all, that you are the best national leadership choice, the masters of prosperity and equality for all? Hm?
Should be interesting to watch. If you’re European . . .
Sure enough, a few hours after I wrote this, Talking Points Memo put up this post citing an article by former Denny Hastert spokesman John Feehery:
The Speaker doesn’t have much room to maneuver. His conference is in no mood to compromise, nor in much of a mood to vote for anything that resembles responsible governance.
But as Speaker of the whole House, he has no choice but to schedule things that keep this country from defaulting on its debts and stay open.
The Hastert rule worked pretty well for Denny Hastert, but for the next couple of years, John Boehner might have to think more like Tip O’Neill if he wants to survive with his reputation intact.