John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

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Rules Are Made to Be Broken

Posted on January 16, 2013
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My cousin Barry once said to me, with a mischievous grin, before he got in trouble with his parents, “rules are made to be broken.”

That certainly is the case these days with the so-called Hastert Rule.

I wrote the speech that the Speaker gave when he first uttered the phrase, “majority of the majority.”

Hastert’s point was a simple one.  You keep passing legislation that your majority doesn’t like, and pretty soon, your majority won’t like you.

It is more of guideline than a hard and fast rule.  And for Hastert, it worked pretty well.  He was the longest serving Republican Speaker of the House in history.

But just because it worked for Denny doesn’t necessarily mean it has always worked.  And in fact, each Speaker of the House has to find his own way.

Sam Rayburn, the longest-serving Speaker in the history of the House, used to prefer open rules.  The House would work its will, and sometimes debates would take weeks.

Tip O’Neill, perhaps one of the most colorful Speakers in the history of the House, pretty much let the Republicans run the floor in the first two years of the Reagan Presidency.  He didn’t have much choice.  He didn’t have the votes.

O’Neill felt that the President should have the opportunity to put his program in place.  He also believed that if he gave the Gipper enough rope, he would end up strangling himself.  He wasn’t too far off.  The Democrats had a huge comeback in the election of 1982.

I think John Boehner won’t have much of a choice in these first several months of the 113th Congress.  He has to get stuff done.  He had to schedule the vote on the tax vote extension.  He had to schedule a vote on Sandy relief if he was going to maintain any credibility for the GOP majority.  And he will have to extend the debt limit.

None of this is pleasant for the Speaker or for his majority.  But my guess is that there are plenty of his colleagues who are more than happy to see all of these things pass and are just as happy to be able to vote against them.

I think the Speaker should give the President his debt limit extension, without any additional spending cuts included.  But he should let the Democrats pass it on their own and have enough of his colleagues take a walk or vote present to let it get a majority.

I would recommend that the Speaker also send another debt extension with all kind of spending cuts included, but I am not sure that would pass the House.

The Speaker doesn’t have much room to maneuver.  His conference is in no mood to compromise, nor in much of a mood to vote for anything that resembles responsible governance.

But as Speaker of the whole House, he has no choice but to schedule things that keep this country from defaulting on its debts and stay open.

The Hastert rule worked pretty well for Denny Hastert, but for the next couple of years, John Boehner might have to think more like Tip O’Neill if he wants to survive with his reputation intact.