John Boehner and the Democrats in the House of
Representatives are always invoking the Hastert rule to justify keeping bills
from being brought to the floor for consideration. What on earth is the Hastert
rule? Which party thought of that? Well it’s all on the internet of course.
Dennis Hastert is the namesake give credit for the Hastert rule and he was, of
course, a Republican. The Hastert rule allows the Speaker of the House to
declare that if a vote doesn’t have a majority of the majority in favor of the
bill it cannot come up for a vote. Does that seems kosher to you, and by kosher
I mean Constitutional?
In the Senate they are always counting to see if
there are 60 votes for a bill. If there aren’t 60 votes in favor then that bill
is “filibustered” which used to mean someone would physically stand up and talk
until it was too late to consider the bill, but now puts a bill in auto
filibuster mode, tabling it just about indefinitely or in other words killing
it, as happened with the Immigration Bill. Who thought of that; which party
gets the credit (or blame) for that new and deliberate snafu in the democratic
process? Once again the Republican brand is all over this.
I am in favor of making both the Hastert rule and the 60 vote filibuster go away. We all can see how much business gets done in Congress with these agenda blockers to fall back on. As you might guess, I am vindicated to learn that we owe both of these strategies to the GOP. These are the tools of obstructionism.
The Speaker of the House can use the Hastert Rule to block the minority, the Democrats and the Minority Leader in the Senate can block the majority by using the filibuster if the majority cannot come up with 60 votes (which they are apparently almost always unable to do). This is how a minority party takes over the Legislative Branch of our government and, although it all seems very much against the intentions of the drafters of our Constitution, it is apparently not illegal and Democrats seem to be unable to reverse the effects of these two rules. It would take the same kind of deep strategy sessions that the Republicans engage in to come up with the next “chess” move that could undo this blockade. Getting angry really won’t do it. Someone needs to figure out how to undo these very effective strategies which are allowing the Republicans to win even though they lost. This is why I refer to the activities of the Republican Party as a coup and why I consider them in revolt against our duly elected government.
Here’s the story on these two monkey wrenches which
are holding back legislation and making it impossible for President Obama to
pursue any part of the agenda we elected him to put in place.
The Hastert Rule
Why does Dennis
Hastert rule the world?
Hastert is the
originator of the “Hastert Rule,” which saith that no House Speaker shall bring
to the floor any legislation not supported by “the majority of the majority”
(i.e., the majority of the Speaker’s caucus).
The current House
Speaker, Republican John Boehner, is quaking at the prospect that, to avoid an
Oct. 1 government shutdown for which the GOP would almost certainly be blamed,
he may have to strip a provision defunding Obamacare (or possibly some other yet-to-be
demand) from the
pending continuing resolution (i.e., temporary appropriation bill). Should
Boehner bring a “clean” CR to the floor, he risks losing a majority of his
caucus and relying on enemy Democrats to get the bill passed. Even if Boehner
sells House Republicans on averting a government shutdown, he may have to
violate the Hastert Rule yet again
to raise the debt limit, which his
caucus is similarly pressuring him to use as a vehicle to defund Obamacare.
Who was Dennis
Hastert, creator of this unbreakable political rule? Some biblical prophet who
in ancient times carried his admonition, carved into stone tablets, down from
State-of-the-art carbon dating establishes that Congress managed for 215 years
to function without any Hastert Rule, until 2004. That’s when then-Speaker
Hastert, a Republican, pulled from the House floor the bill creating the
position of director
of national intelligence
because it lacked support from a majority of the Republicans he was supposedly
leading. Far from being praised for this surrender of authority to the
“majority of the majority,” Hastert was criticized
for spinelessness. (The bill eventually
passed with a few tweaks to appease two
grumpy committee chairmen
speakers ignored the majority of the majority whenever circumstances warranted
it. The Atlantic
’s Molly Ball recently
that Tip O’Neill had
no choice but to violate the yet-unwritten Hastert Rule many times because his
caucus contained a lot of conservative southern Democrats. (O’Neill’s various
triumphs over partisan division are nicely documented in Tip
and the Gipper: When Politics Worked,
by MSNBC host and
onetime O’Neill staff aide Chris Matthews, due out next week.)
But O’Neill was hardly
unique in this respect. House Speakers are expected
to press forward
with important legislation even when it’s not supported by a majority of their
party. Speaker Tom Foley, a Democrat (1989-1995) violated the Hastert
Rule at least six times, as did his successor, Newt Gingrich. Even after
Hastert codified his Rule, Nancy Pelosi violated it at least seven
York Times tally
last April calculated
that the Hastert Rule had been violated 36 times over the previous 22 years.
Boehner has already violated it several times himself. At best the Hastert Rule
Bill Murray in Ghostbusters
“more of a guideline than a rule.”
What about Hastert
himself? Today he is remembered for being the longest-serving Republican
speaker in history (1999-2007), just nosing out “Uncle” Joe Cannon (1903-11).
Cannon was the most powerful House speaker in history, and he was eventually
ousted in a revolt. Hastert, by contrast, was a onetime gym coach elevated from
deputy whip to the speakership as a sort of proxy for Tom DeLay, the powerful
House majority whip, who knew he was too controversial to take the top job.
During his speakership, Hastert (who now
) was regarded as one
of the Bush era’s less-consequential political figures. Once when writing a
DeLay profile for George
magazine, I asked Hastert if he had ever
disagreed with DeLay about anything. He said he had but that he couldn’t
remember those instances.
But perhaps Hastert had
more spine than we give him credit for, because it turns out he violated the
Hastert Rule no fewer than 12 times, or more than any speaker in recent memory
(except perhaps O’Neill). If Denny Hastert must be elevated to the status of
prophet, remember him not for the craven rule he invented, but for his
willingness to violate it again and again. Hastert never suffered any notable
consequences for these transgressions. Speaker Boehner, take note.
From April to
June 2010, the Senate
Committee on Rules and Administration held a series of monthly public
hearings entitled “Examining the Filibuster” to examine the history
and use of the filibuster in the Senate. The Committee held the first such
hearing, entitled “History of the Filibuster 1789–2008” on April 22.
It held the second hearing, entitled “The Filibuster Today and Its
Consequences”, on May 19. On June 23, the Committee held the third
hearing, entitled “Silent Filibusters, Holds and the Senate Confirmation
10, 2010, Independent democratic socialist Senator Bernard
Sanders of Vermont began a “Tax Cut Filibuster” at 10:25 am
and finished at 6:59 pm later that day. on the floor of the Senate.
Sanders’ office said the intention was to “speak as long as possible
against a tax deal between the White House and congressional Republicans.
In response to
the use of the filibuster in the 111th Congress, all Democratic senators
returning to the 112th Congress, signed a petition to Senate Majority Leader
Harry Reid, requesting that the filibuster be reformed, including abolishing secret
holds and reducing the amount of time given to post-cloture debate.
On December 6,
2012, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Minority Leader, became the first
senator to filibuster his own proposal. Without
giving a lengthy speech, he invoked the rules of filibuster on his bill to
raise the passage threshold to 60 votes. McConnell had attempted to force the
opposition Democrats, who had a majority in the Senate, to refuse to pass what
would have been a politically costly measure, but one that would nonetheless
solve the current ongoing debt ceiling deadlock. When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
(D-NV) chose to call a vote on the proposal regardless, McConnell immediately
invoked the rules of filibusters on his own proposal, effectively doing the
first self-filibuster in Senate history.
At the conclusion of the 112th
, the Senate debated filibuster reform. Negotiations on changes to
the rules for filibustering were set to take place during January 2013.
On March 6,
2013, Senator Rand
Paul launched a talking filibuster to stall John
Brennan’s nomination confirmation vote for the position of Director of the CIA demanding an answer from the Obama Administration to the question:
“Should a President be allowed to target, and kill an American by drone
attack, on American soil, without due process?” John Brennan was
considered to be the main architect of the drone program. After 12 hours and 52
minutes of talking, it became the 9th longest filibuster in U.S. history.
between the two parties resulted in two packages of amendments to the rules on
filibusters being approved by the Senate on January 25, 2013. Changes to the
standing orders affecting just the 2013-14 Congress were passed by a vote of 78
to 16, allowing the Senate majority leader to prohibit a filibuster on a motion
to begin consideration of a bill. Changes to the permanent Senate rules were
passed by a vote of 86 to 9. The changes occurred through Senate Resolution 15
and Senate Resolution 16; Senate Resolution 15 applies only to the 113th
session, while Senate Resolution 16 changed two standing rules of the Senate.
The series of
changes to the filibuster rules announced represented a compromise between the
major reforms put forward by some Democratic senators and the changes preferred
by Republican senators. Those seeking reform, including Democrats and liberal
interest groups, had originally proposed a variety of strong reforms including:
ending the filibuster completely; banning the use of filibusters on the motion
to proceed; re-introducing the “talking filibuster” where the
minority would have to remain on the Senate floor and speak in order to impede
passage of a vote; banning the use of filibusters on House-Senate conferences;
and forcing the minority to produce 41 votes in order to block cloture. These
more extensive reforms of the filibuster could only have been implemented by a
decision from the Senate’s presiding officer declaring it unconstitutional.
The new rules
remove the requirement of 60 votes in order to begin debate on legislation and
allow the minority two amendments to measures that reach the Senate floor, a
change implemented as a standing order that expires at the end of the current
term. In the new rules, the amount of time to debate following a motion to
proceed has been reduced from 30 hours to four. Additionally, a filibuster on
the motion to proceed will be blocked if a petition is signed by eight members
of the minority, including the minority leader. For district court nominations,
the new rules reduce the required time before the nominee is confirmed after
cloture from 30 hours to two hours. Under the new rules, if senators wish to
block a bill or nominee after the motion to proceed, they will need to be
present in the Senate and debate. Following the changes, 60 votes are still
required to overcome a filibuster to pass legislation and confirm nominees and
the “silent filibuster”—where senators can filibuster even if they
leave the floor—remained in place.
announcement of the new rules, Senator Dick Durbin,
who was involved in the negotiations, stated that the deal reached was true
agreement between the majority and minority leaders, and was overwhelmingly
supported by Senate Democrats. However, the agreement was negatively received
by liberal interest groups including CREDO, Fix the Senate Now, a coalition of
approximately 50 progressive and labor organizations, and the Progressive
Change Campaign Committee, both of whom had advocated for eliminating the
“silent filibuster” on the grounds that it allows Republicans to filibuster
progressive bills. Liberal independent Senator Bernie
Sanders argued that the requirement for 60 votes to pass legislation makes
it “impossible” to deal with the crises faced by the United States.
Conservatives also criticized the reforms, arguing that the changes negatively
impacted the minority party. In particular, Heritage Action for America argued
that reducing the length of time for debate allows senior lawmakers to
“avoid accountability”. Additionally, Senator Rand Paul
criticized the rules change for limiting the “ability of Senators to offer
numbers have been removed to make this article more readable; just follow the
link if you want to see the source attributions.]
This is the view from the cheap seats.
This blog post is also available at www.brissioni.com