The House Needs To Scrap the "Hastert Rule"

How to Make Government Work
Jan. 3 2013 3:09 PM

The House Needs To Scrap the "Hastert Rule"

John Boehner after being re-elected as speaker of the House during the opening session of the 113th House of Representatives

Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

The 113th Congress was sworn in today, leaving to the harsh critique of historians the 112th Congress. It likely to be remembered as among the least useful in memory. Rabid voices in both chambers were able to stop everything from confirmations to treaties to meaningful negotiations on taxes and spending and the debt ceiling.

Two changes are needed, one in each chamber, to restore the legislative branch to its useful role as a deliberative body rather than a forum for hostage taking. In the Senate, filibuster reform is the key. We will know by the end of January if Senator Majority Leader Reid is willing to push for genuine reform. While the needed rule changes would ordinarily have to be made in the first few days of the new Congress, Sen. Reid has kept the window open until late in the month. I am not pleased at the delay. It signals that there may not already be enough votes for reform immediately, or that Reid is keeping filibuster reform as a card to play in the month of debt ceiling negotiations with Senate Minority Leader McConnell. Either way, I am not comforted.


In the House, the filibuster equivalent has been the Hastert rule, an informal Republican principle under which the speaker permits to the floor for a vote only bills that have majority support of the majority party. This has empowered the extreme right wing of the Republican Party. Speaker John Boehner ignored the Hastert rule in permitting the legislation that overcame the “fiscal cliff” to get to the floor. The bill passed with only 85 Republican votes, drawing most of its support from the Democratic side of the aisle. Boehner was then barely re-elected as speaker.

If the House is to permit reasoned centrist bills to move forward, it must get comfortable with ignoring the Hastert rule. That would permit a centrist coalition of Democrats and Republicans to circumvent the Tea Party wing.

If the filibuster and the Hastert rule are not overcome, the 113th Congress will begin very quickly to look like the 112th, and we will all lose.

Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of the state of New York, hosts Viewpoint on Current TV. Follow @eliotspitzer on Twitter.


Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.


Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.