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Meyer: End of the Hastert Rule Spells Coalition Rule in House

A center-left coalition is forming in the House of Representatives. Republicans may have a numerical majority in the House, but they aren’t necessarily the voting majority. In fact, they’re far from it.

The last two major bills — the fiscal cliff deal and the pork-filled Sandy bill — passed with less than 40 percent from the Republican caucus. We should expect this to become a trend.

The Sandy aid vote (the $50 billion supplemental bill to the $9 billion in aid already signed) passed with just 21 percent support from the caucus; 49 Republicans joined 192 Democrats to pass the measure. The fiscal cliff bill passed with only 35 percent; 85 Republicans joined 172 Democrats to seal the Biden-McConnell deal.

Newly re-elected, Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio seems willing to pass bills — against the “Hastert rule” — with less than majority support from his caucus. Anytime there’s a cliff, deadline or supposed crisis, Boehner doesn’t mind using his new coalition to throw the majority of the GOP caucus under the bus.

These 45 to 85 liberal-leaning Republicans are the new swing votes in the House, and nothing will get passed without them.

Watch the debt ceiling debate. This coalition is already dominating. Against the wishes of the caucus majority, the plan that rose out of the House GOP retreat in Williamsburg, Va., demands no spending cuts or entitlement reform. It merely asks the Senate to pass a budget, any budget, and the House will pass a debt ceiling extension. While this gimmick highlights that the Senate hasn’t passed a real budget in four years, this plan doesn’t really advance the debate or fix the debt.

That’s why the majority of House Republicans want to use the debt ceiling as leverage to force President Barack Obama to balance the budget in 10 years. But that strategy isn’t what came out of the retreat because House GOP leaders plans to use their coalition to “fight the next battle,” take spending cuts off the table, and not risk hitting the debt ceiling.

The truth is, regardless of whether the Senate passes a budget, the liberal-leaning Republicans will cave when we near the debt ceiling deadline.

If we get close to the ceiling, Obama will threaten to default and not send out Social Security checks, and these Republicans will cower and concede. The liberal-leaning Republicans will team up with House Democrats to pass a clean extension. It happened similarly with the fiscal cliff; it’ll happen again.

Boehner could ultimately hold the caucus together with the Hastert rule and not capitulate to whatever plan Obama wants passed. But, just like with the fiscal cliff and Sandy bills, Boehner will side with the liberal-leaning Republicans and bring the Democrats’ bill to a vote.

When he does, most of the House GOP caucus won’t vote with the speaker for an extension that doesn’t cut spending. This now-silent majority of GOP members is justifiably upset that last week’s GOP “retreat” became a double entendre.

Boehner and his liberal-leaning Republicans have mastered the art of unprovoked retreat. During the fiscal cliff plan, the speaker retreated and offered an $800 billion tax increase before the president even put out a plan. On the Sandy bill, Boehner retreated and passed a pork-filled bill instead of sending a clean bill to the Senate. Now, before even trying to demand cuts, Boehner is retreating and offering to raise the debt ceiling.

And, what can we expect with the continuing resolution or any bill with a looming deadline? More retreating and more coalition votes.

Ironically, the Democratic-controlled Senate might be conservatives’ last, best hope to stop Obama’s agenda.

Twelve incumbent Senate Democrats running in 2014 have already shown vulnerable poll numbers — eight in usually red-leaning states. These eight Democrats face larger electoral problems resulting from agreeing with Obama’s agenda than the liberal-leaning Republicans do in the House.

These same Senators are the reasons Obama hasn’t been able to pass a budget in the Senate or an immigration overhaul or another stimulus. And they’ll be the reason the president can’t pass his gun control proposals. Any of these bills would be toxic votes for these vulnerable Democrats.

At this point, if any bill can pass the Senate, it can likely pass the House (with this new coalition), and conservatives should stop believing we control any branch of government.

The public should stop calling the House “Republican-controlled” and start calling it “coalition-controlled.” While neither party formally lost control of either chamber, the 2012 election seems to have functionally shifted control of the House by persuading Boehner to dump the Hastert rule.

Now, the House GOP won’t be “obstructionists,” but they won’t be conservative either — and the government will march unchecked to $20 trillion in debt.

Ron Meyer is spokesman for American Majority Action.

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