Gridlock and the Hastert Rule

If you’re wondering why we so frequently have gridlock in the U.S. House of Representatives, look no further than the Hastert Rule.

The Hastert Rule is an informal rule of procedure used by House Republicans since the mid-1990s that limits what proposed legislation can be voted on by the House when the GOP is in control. The rule prevents legislation from being brought to the floor for a vote unless a majority of Republican House members support it. As of May 15, there were 235 Republican members of the House, 193 Democrats, and seven vacant seats, which means that unless 118 Republicans support a bill, it won’t be brought up for a vote even if the bill is supported by enough Republicans and Democrats to pass.

What that also means is that all it takes is 18 Republicans voting “no” to prevent any piece of legislation from being brought to a vote, which gives an inordinate amount of power to the three dozen or so Republicans who belong to the “Freedom Caucus,” many of whom came in with the Tea Party. The Caucus is considered to be the farthest right wing of the House Republicans.

With about 36 members (out of the 428 total), the Caucus can — and does — veto any legislation that it does not consider to be far enough to the right.

So . . . there’s no point to House leaders negotiating with Democrats on legislation because whatever the Democrats are willing to support will be vetoed by the Caucus. There’s no point to compromise legislation because the Caucus will scuttle whatever its members don’t like — and since they are a far-right minority of the Republican majority, they don’t like much. And there’s no point to the Senate’s passing legislation that the Caucus doesn’t like because that legislation won’t be voted on in the House.

It’s true that a House Speaker could bring legislation to the floor whether or not the Caucus approved of it, but Speaker Paul Ryan, like John Boehner before him, has mostly been unwilling to risk losing the support of the Caucus by doing so — and even though Ryan is not running for re-election and could now thumb his nose at the Caucus, he hasn’t.

Welcome to minority rule. The framers of the Constitution set up a structure that, working as intended, requires negotiation and compromise across party lines. The Hastert rule requires kowtowing to a far right minority of 36 House members who represent approximately 8% of the 2017 U.S. population.

So if you don’t like Congressional deadlock, vote for the Democrat running in your congressional district — and send money.

The only way to begin to break partisan gridlock is to get rid of the Hastert Rule and the only way to get rid of the Hastert Rule is to elect a Democratic majority in the House.

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