Hastert Rule is unfair to Democrats... or something

Anytime the GOP is in power, be it Congress or the Presidency, there is always a blizzard of ideas from “moderates” on how to do things better. The unifying thread in these great ideas is that even though the GOP had the temerity to win an election they should actually just step aside and leave power to the Democrats. Usually a president is encouraged to construct a “unity government” were key cabinet positions are given to Democrats and to appoint liberal judges. Congress is usually encouraged to toss out traditions of staffing committees and majority/minority committee composition and be fair.


Another of these ideas surfaced today in RealClearPolitics, it is called Down With the Hastert Rule by Carl M. Cannon. The Hastert Rule is named after form Speaker of the House Denny Hastert, even though he didn’t invent it, and states that the only legislation that will see the light of day in the House is that which is supported by a majority of the majority party. There are good reasons for this. The Speaker is elected by the majority and it is profoundly unwise for a Speaker to torque a majority of his own caucus and rely upon Democrat votes to pass legislation. More importantly, the Republican party should, in an ideal world, stand for something and if a particular bill doesn’t have the support of a majority of the GOP then maybe it shouldn’t be passed into law by a Congress controlled by the GOP.

President Obama’s rationale for making law unilaterally on U.S. immigration policy—after insisting for years that he had no such constitutional authority—hinged on a single argument: inaction by lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Specifically, House Republicans.

Speaking to the nation from the East Room a week before Thanksgiving, Obama put it bluntly: “To those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill.”


According to Cannon, Obama is completely justified in acting because an immigration bill opposed by a clear majority of the GOP caucus in the House wasn’t allowed to the House floor for a vote. Because it was bipartisan even though nearly all the GOP Senate caucus voted against it. This is simply stupid on a several levels.

The immigration bill was a horrible bill. The bill was a replay of Obamacare. It was voluminous. It went at the existing system with a machete without any clear idea on how the regulations implementing the law would look. No one had any confidence that Obama would be any more diligent on border security than George Bush was.

The immigration bill was opposed by Republican voters in huge numbers. Republican voters are pretty important to GOP representatives.

Just because the Senate does something is no reason the House has to (or vice versa, see the 350 or so bills passed by the House but not acted on by the Senate).

The president has no authority to make immigration policy regardless of the the Congress does or doesn’t do.

The GOP is always told it is supposed to govern. Governing does not entail acting like a windsock. Governing within the context of partisan politics requires the Speaker to keep his troops in line and he does that by ensuring that he doesn’t gratuitously brown off over half of them.



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