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February 05, 2014 1:43 PM Another “Hastert Rule” Violation to Pass Debt Limit Bill?

By Ed Kilgore

There’s been a lot of talk for months now about John Boehner needing a “Hastert Rule” (an informal but critical-to-conservatives guideline against bringing major legislation to the House floor without support from a majority of Republicans) violation to enact immigration reform legislation—a violation that could cost him his gavel. But breaking the Hastert Rule for the sixth or eighth time (depending on how you count it) in the Boehner era could happen a lost faster, if it’s necessary to pass a debt limit increase that the Speaker and the House GOP leadership has repeatedly sworn to pass by any means necessary.

Politico’s Sherman and Bresnahan lay it out:

At a GOP leadership meeting Wednesday morning, top Republicans privately acknowledged that they cannot pass a debt limit bill with language that would tweak Obamacare or mandate construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, according to aides. They won’t even try to put those bills on the floor, senior aides said….
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) wants to bring a bill to the floor next week to raise the nation’s borrowing limit, but there’s no concrete sense of how to attract the support of 217 Republicans. The vast majority of Democrats will only vote for a clean debt ceiling bill without extraneous policy attached.
President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) have repeatedly told rank-and-file Democrats that they will not negotiate on a debt ceiling bill, and White House officials have demanded that GOP leaders on Capitol Hill move a clean bill — or one without policy additions….
Even the House GOP’s right flank is divided on how to proceed. Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho said on Wednesday that the party should not appear as if it is fighting for structural economic reforms only to bend at the last second to Democrats who have said they will not settle for anything less than a clean bill.
“The problem is that I don’t want a ruse. I don’t want us to just claim we are fighting for something and then capitulate in the end,” Labrador said at a “Conversations with Conservatives” event. “I’m just being realistic … if we’re not going to fight for those things then let’s be honest with the American people and let them know that Harry Reid and the president will not negotiate. We’re not willing to put the full faith and credit of the United States in jeopardy.”
But several other Republican members piped up to say that the GOP has to make sure it is getting something out of a lift in the country’s borrowing authority. Rep. Joe Barton of Texas suggested one way would be to require $1 of spending cuts for every $2 that the debt ceiling is raised, a twist on past Republican demands of so-called one-for-one cuts. Passing a clean debt ceiling in the House with mostly Democratic votes, he said, is a “mistake.”
“I don’t advocate some sort of a scorched-earth process but I do advocate: ‘Let’s come up with some common sense structural reforms,’” Barton said. “A clean debt ceiling, I think is capitulation.”
Added Rep. Vicky Hartzler of Missouri: “We have to get something for that vote.”

Labrador notwithstanding, a “no” vote on a clean debt limit bill is going to look like a no-brainer to many House Members who have in the past told their constituents that breaching the limit either isn’t necessary or is no big deal. Maybe Boehner can carefully hand out “passes” to Members with primary challenges or who have been very vocal on this issue before, and manage to hang onto a bare majority of his conference. But another Hastert Rule violation, however much Republicans would quietly hope for it, is going to provide enormous leverage against Boehner down the road, or might just convince him to hang it all up at the end of the year.

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.

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