Political Animal


December 12, 2012 12:06 PM The Fiscal Talks and the Hastert Rule

By Ed Kilgore

Via TPM’s Brian Beutler, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, offers an interesting explanation for John Boehner’s procrastination in pursuing a pre-January fiscal deal with the White House:

“I’m getting increasingly concerned that one of the reasons the Speaker is deciding to, I think, string out these discussions is that he wants to wait til January 3 when the election for Speaker takes place and he’s concerned that any agreement he reaches if it violated the so-called Hastert Rule could undermine support for him in his caucus and make it more difficult on January 3,” he told reporters at a Wednesday breakfast roundtable hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

The Hastert Rule is the informal but powerful guideline that the House GOP leadership must refuse to advance any legislation that doesn’t have majority backing in the House GOP Caucus. It was probably applied most rigorously by Tom DeLay, whose objective was to undercut any “centrist” Democratic influence in the House. For obvious reasons, it’s beloved by House conservative back-benchers who perpetually suspect their leadership—most especially the Orange Man from Ohio—of nefarious RINO intentions.

It’s not entirely clear to me that getting himself formally re-elected Speaker will protect Boehner’s back if he pursues a deal conservatives don’t like. But it would certainly take away the most immediate threat to his immediate power. And so we see him stall, as in constantly demanding the White House produce detailed “entitlement reform” proposals in exchange for the GOP’s vague commitment to some sort of higher revenues.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • T2 on December 12, 2012 12:14 PM:

    Hastert rule or no, Boehner is stalling for two reasons -
    1- he is scared he's going to lose his Speaker position (and thus his preferred bed at the tanning parlor)
    2-he has absolutely no plan at all to advance besides "cut Medicare and Social Security"

  • Mimikatz on December 12, 2012 12:30 PM:

    The new Congress that comes in on January 3 and would vote for Speaker is minus some of the worst members of the Crazy Caucus, plus it has 8 more Dems. Does the House conduct an open vote for Speaker where the 208 or whatever Dems vote for Pelosi and then the GOPers can vote for Boehner or whoever they want (Daffy Duck if they want--doesn't have to be a member of the House) and only 207 vote for Boehner so Pelosi gets it? That would seem to solidify Boehner's position. Only 209 or whatever need to vote for him; the other 20 can vote for Alan West.

  • Anonymous on December 12, 2012 12:35 PM:

    Oops, I was a little off. There will be 200 Dems and 234 GOPsters with 1 vacancy.

    So it would take 35 detections for Boehner to lose. I guess there are still 50 crazies left.

  • bigtuna on December 12, 2012 12:49 PM:

    So the whole "negotiation" thing "between" Boner and Obama is much more complex, ech? Boner would need 120 votes now; 117 after Jan 1, to meet the Hastart rule, to have a deal with Obama. The balance of votes from Dems makes it seem like it is still a tricky needle to thread - how many Dems will balk at a deal that is too Republican? After Jane 3, won't there be some more liberal dems, and fewer blue dogs?

    THe numbers seem tricky to me.

  • c u n d gulag on December 12, 2012 1:14 PM:

    And we Democrats think herding their House cats is tough?

    Try getting the inmates in the Republican asylum to line up in alphabetical or height order?
    Or IQ!

    Who would be on the lowest end of the IQ scale?
    S. King?

  • Matt on December 12, 2012 1:59 PM:

    Itís not entirely clear to me that getting himself formally re-elected Speaker will protect Boehnerís back if he pursues a deal conservatives donít like.

    I don't know about that. Let's grant the premise that Boehner really is ideologically distinct from the right wing of his party. We don't give that fringe a lot of credit for intelligence or shrewd tactical thinking, but even they're smart enough to understand that having Boehner as a somewhat willful puppet is preferable to publicly purging him, and that publicly purging him at the election is VASTLY preferable to purging him mid-term.

    If Boehner goes down in flames mid-term, he'll take the entire party with him, no questions asked. Everything the federal government does wrong or fails to do right will get blamed (probably correctly!) on GOP infighting.

    So yeah, if Boehner really is worried, then waiting until he's re-elected makes a certain amount of tactical sense. (And whether or not it's correct, floating the idea was a smart move by Van Hollen. When your opponent is walking a tightrope, turn on the wind machine.)

  • Tom on December 12, 2012 2:10 PM:

    I have read elsewhere that the current GOP caucus policy is that nothing comes to the floor unless it can pass with 218 GOP votes -- no coalition with DEMS ever necessary to pass legislation. This insures the power of the ultra-rightwing. Has anyone confirmation of this...?

  • Doug on December 12, 2012 6:07 PM:

    "But it would certainly take the most immediate threat to his immediate power." Ed Kilgore

    He makes any ageement with President Obama that includes raising taxes and the Orange One is out on his ear come January 3, 2013.
    So, Speaker Boehner, which is more important: being Speaker or, if you believe your fellow Republicans, the doom that will overtake this country if we go over the "fiscal cliff"?
    We report, you decide...