House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio (right),
and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., enter a Republican caucus
meeting at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday.
By letting the House take up the Senate's fiscal cliff-dodging
legislation that raises income tax rates on the wealthiest earners,
Speaker John Boehner answered affirmatively a question that had been on
many minds: Would he allow an up-or-down floor vote on a bill opposed by
most fellow House Republicans?
Until the New Year's Day vote,
Boehner had generally operated the House under what was known as the
Hastert Rule. Named for former Speaker Dennis Hastert, it required a
"majority of the majority" to support legislation before the speaker
approved a floor vote.
But in the case of the fiscal cliff legislation passed by the House in a 257-167 vote, the majority of the majority opposed the bill, in large part because it lacked the significant spending cuts they desired.
151 House GOP opponents even included members of Boehner's leadership
team — Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and Majority Whip Kevin
McCarthy of California.
That Boehner, from Ohio, allowed the
House to vote on the Senate bill arguably sets a precedent for his
speakership, and perhaps gives a preview of what could be the shape of
things to come. Or maybe it just sets a precedent for the most
contentious legislation, whose passage is deemed crucial to keep the
economic recovery alive and otherwise keep at bay a parade of horribles.
Sarah Binder, a George Washington University political scientist, wrote on The Monkey Cage blog that there appears to be a new House rule book.
one of the most important House votes of the year, the minority ruled.
The Hastert Rule (go forward only with the support of a majority of the
majority party) has been displaced (at least for now) by the Boehner
Rule (sometimes a majority of the majority has to be rolled for the sake
of the party's reputation)."
Of course, this assumes that Boehner gets to retain his speakership in the new 113th Congress, which is sworn in Thursday.
is plenty of conservative outrage — including accusations that Boehner
doesn't represent them — and renewed calls for his ouster as speaker.
you can find plenty of people, including Republican House members, who
think Boehner will keep the speaker's gavel in the new Congress.
Speaking on C-SPAN Wednesday morning, Rep. Mick Mulvaney, a conservative Republican from South Carolina, said:
don't think you'll see a change in the speakership. The real question
is: Are the next two years under the Boehner speakership ... will the
next two years of leadership be like the previous two years of
leadership? The conservatives in the party really feel like we're losing
the spending battle.
"We have not cut spending. In fact, the
one place we were supposed to cut spending was on the sequester [or
spending cuts that were supposed to start with the new year's arrival].
But that got delayed [because of the deal]. So our question as
conservatives is, when are we going to start this battle over spending?
We've waited two years now. We're not going to wait much longer."
conservatives like Mulvaney are clearly restive, it appears there isn't
a large-scale mutiny brewing within the House Republican conference to
oust Boehner in the way Newt Gingrich was forced out in January 1999.
Boehner's power could be tested soon if he needs to again rely on House
Democrats to deliver votes needed to pass other controversial
legislation in coming weeks — like the postponed spending cuts of the
fiscal cliff sequester, or raising the nation's debt ceiling.
not universally accepted that the divisions within the House Republican
conference will again require Boehner to get Democratic leader Nancy
Pelosi's help in getting crucial fiscal legislation across the finish
Speaking Wednesday with All Things Considered
co-host Robert Siegel, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said he didn't see what
happened with the New Year's Day vote as foreshadowing what's likely to
happen in coming weeks and months.
"I would expect the deals
going forward to be majority Republican and minority Democrat as opposed
to the other way around," Cole said. The lawmaker explained that
legislation with tax hikes for the rich and a lack of spending cuts was
terrain favoring Democrats, as he saw it. By contrast, bills that push
spending cuts and entitlement reforms will be more Republican-friendly
battleground, Cole said.
Cole said he expects Boehner will be re-elected speaker, in part because of the lack of a plausible alternative.
It's worth noting that Boehner never vowed that he would only bring legislation to a floor vote if he had a majority of a majority.
before he assumed the speakership in 2011, a reporter asked him at a
news conference if he would abide by the Hastert Rule. Boehner said:
— I'm going to run the House my way, work with members on both sides of
the aisle to decide what should come to the floor and what shouldn't
come to the floor. I don't think we need to just set up hard rules and
hard walls that just get in the way of doing the will of the American
people. If we're open with — to each other and we're willing to listen
to the American people, we'll have — we'll have good debate every day,
and we'll have a healthy outcome."
And even Hastert or his successor, Pelosi, diverged from that rule at times. As the Associated Press' Charles Babington wrote:
as House speaker in 2006, violated the 'majority of the majority' rule
by letting Republicans provide most of the votes for an Iraq war funding
measure she disliked.
"Hastert, the Republican speaker from
1999 to 2007, overrode the rule at least twice. In one case, he let
Democratic votes carry the load on a stem cell research bill everyone
knew President George W. Bush would veto. Hastert also yielded to
pressure to let the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill pass even
though most House Republicans opposed it."