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Speaker John A. Boehner’s decision to allow a bill to pass with only 49 Republican votes Tuesday has some in his party questioning whether this is the new normal and has at the same time delighted Democrats, who believe they might be able to produce similar results in the battles ahead.
The Ohio Republican has generally operated under a policy of bringing bills to the floor only if a majority of his conference can support it. But that was not the case on Tuesday night’s vote on supplemental disaster relief for those stricken by Superstorm Sandy, nor the fiscal cliff deal, which passed with only 85 Republicans on board earlier this month.
That has Republicans questioning whether the “Hastert rule” is dead.
“That rule is completely dead,” one Republican aide said. “The Democrats now effectively control the floor because nothing ‘big’ will come to the floor without knowing in advance that lots of Democrats support it. That gives the Democrats tremendous power in a body where the minority is not designed to have much power.”
In fact, the rule’s namesake, former Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., blasted Boehner earlier this month for bringing bills to the floor too often that turn off members of his own conference, holding that doing so empowers President Barack Obama and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.
“Maybe you can do it once, maybe you can do it twice, but when you start making deals when you have to get Democrats to pass the legislation, you are not in power anymore,” he said on Fox News Radio’s “Kilmeade & Friends.” “When you start passing stuff that your members are not in line with, all of a sudden your ability to lead is in jeopardy because somebody else is making decisions. The president is making decisions, Pelosi is making decisions, or they are making the decisions in the Senate.”
House Republican leadership, however, contends that those two votes were extraordinary circumstances. The fiscal cliff vote involved the perception that taxes would be raised, which scared off many Republicans. When it came to Sandy aid, the overwhelming public pressure, including from New York and New Jersey GOP officials, made it impossible not to bring the bill to the floor.
“The fiscal cliff legislation and aid to Sandy were very particular circumstances,” a GOP leadership aide said. “Everyone has been very clear that the goal is to proceed in regular order and with as many Republican votes as possible because that leads to the best policy.”