Proposed Changes to the American Democratic System: The Hastert Rule

That’s “Democratic” as in “Democracy”, not the political party.

As a systems guy, I tend to look at problems with our Democracy as being natural consequences of the systems where it is embedded. I have come to settle on a few aspects of our system that have outsized influence. These changes are all big. But they aren’t as big or well known as many other focus areas.

The Hastert Rule

This is a little publicized rule that entirely neuters the minority party and bi-partisanship. It says the Speaker of the House will not a bring a bill to the floor if it doesn’t have the majority of his own party, regardless of support or not from the other party. Thus, it is often called the “majority of the majority” rule. This is not actually a rule in a legal or parlimentary process sense. It is a policy that the Speaker of the House chooses to employ or not.

Consider the overall makeup of the electorate. Democrats and Republicans are in roughly equal numbers around the country. The Republican party is now majority crazy (or close enough). The crazies are not the majority of the country, not even close. But they are the majority of the Republicans. That’s how they win primaries and lose general elections.

It’s the same in the House. The GOP majority in the house is controlled by the nutjobs. Centrist Republicans cannot join with Democrats to pass a bill, because the Hastert rule will never allow that vote to happen. A bill could have over 70% support and never get voted on. It is a fundamentally anti-democratic heurestic that has led to the worst parts of the GOP taking over the house and policy making. In many ways it is worse than the dreaded filibuster.

Would is surprise you which party uses the rule and which doesn’t? Probably not. It was started by Newt Gingrich, labeled by his successor Dennis Hastert, as well as John Boehner, Paul Ryan, and of course pledged long ago by Kevin McCarthy. That is every Republican Speaker since 1995. On the other hand, “Speaker Nancy Pelosi declined to use the Hastert rule in managing her caucus. Pelosi wanted Republicans to be part of the process and sought broader support for major legislation.”And is so often the case, you find Newt Gingrich headlining the “make everything worse” side of the argument. If he’s for it, I’m against it.

This rule explicitly says the Speaker of the House is not to represent the American People, he/she is there to represent their party and their party only. Hastert believed the role of a speaker was, in his words, “not to expedite legislation that runs counter to the wishes of the majority of his majority.”

What is partisanship? In my mind, it is when someone puts the needs of their party of over the need of the population. The Hastert Rule is partisanship in one of it’s worst forms, and yet another way that Republican party seeks out partisan advantage as the expense of democracy.

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