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Tom Murse

Why You Should Blame Something Called the Hastert Rule for the Government Shutdown of 2013

By October 6, 2013

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So, there's reportedly enough support in the House of Representatives to pass a temporary spending measure and end the government shutdown of 2013. But the congressman who wields the gavel, House Speaker John Boehner, won't bring it up for a vote.

Why not?

An obscure, unwritten policy called the Hastert Rule, to which Republican House leaders have adhered to, off and on, over the past several decades.

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What is the Hastert Rule?

It's a policy House Republicans use to forbid any legislation that doesn't have support from a "majority of the majority" from coming up for a vote on the House floor. In other words, if there are enough Republicans who oppose a particular piece of legislation the speaker won't bring it up for a vote.

So here we are in 2013, the Republicans control the House, and the conservative wing of the splintered party has decided it will not support funding the federal government unless the new federal health care law known as Obamacare is delayed.

Speaker's Role in Shutown

Boehner's hands are now tied. Does he break the Hastert Rule, as he's done on occasion, and risk losing his speakership at the hands of some 30 Tea Party Republicans? Or does he bring the government to a screeching halt over his inability to bring his party into line?

The latter, of course. We're a week into the government shutdown and there's no exit plan. There won't be, either, until the majority of the House GOP Conference - mainstream Republicans - put enough pressure on Boehner to bring a clean continuing resolution up for a vote.

How the Shutdown Will End

Those Republicans understand, though they may be unwilling to say it publicly for fear of facing a primary opponent in 2014, that President Barack Obama's health care law, flawed as it may be, was passed by Congress, signed into law and upheld by the highest court in the land. Those Republicans understand that there will be a time to make the appropriate fixes to Obamacare.

Those Republicans understand that holding some 800,000 furloughed federal workers hostage over their colleagues' narrow ideological focus is damaging not only the country but the GOP brand.

Those mainstream Republicans eventually will begin speaking up.

They would be wise to do so sooner rather than later. And they would be wise to pay particular attention to a gentleman named J. Dennis Hastert, the Republican former House speaker for whom the Hastert Rule is name, the same man who broke his own unwritten rule a dozen times.

Said Hastert of his tenure as speaker and willingness to reach across the aisle: "If we had to work with Democrats, we did."

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