The Grinch Who Ate Democracy

Paul Ryan, the newly elected speaker of the house, has agreed to use the majority of the majority, aka the Hastert rule, to decide which bills are brought to vote before the full House.

The majority of the majority—that sounds so democratic—but it isn’t. The Hastert Rule actually allows a dedicated minority to control which bills the House can vote on like laws addressing immigration, finances, tax reform, infrastructure, energy, housing, health, and so on.

How can this be anti-democratic? The majority is restricted to the majority party in charge, the Republicans. Currently, there are 247 Republicans and 188 Democrats. A majority of majority, the number needed for the Speaker to bring a bill to floor vote, is then 124. That 124 controls what the entire nation’s 435 representatives can express their opinion and their constituent’s desires on.

Unfortunately, a disciplined minority in the majority party can stop bills they dislike when there is a split in the majority party already. There is a recent example with the budget deal that finally passed this week.

Boxes of 2 ways to highlight the House composition by political party
Different ways toviewe graphically two large numbers that are not so different

It wasn’t until John Boehner decided to ignore the Hastert Rule (it is not a constitutional requirement or a law; it is a procedural rule), the Freedom Caucus’s opposition (38 votes) had stopped him from bringing the budget bill to the floor for a vote.

Finally when it was brought to a vote, it passed with 79 Republicans and 187 Democratic votes. That’s 61% of the House in favor.

Until Boehner ignored the Hastert Rule, 61% of America was not allowed to confirm a budget, stymied by a small fraction of America’s elected representatives.

How could a mere 38 members of Congress stop the bill? Not by Constitutional means, but by the Republican party’s desire to only bring to a vote those bills that an overwhelming majority of their members approve of. They have amplified the legislative chokehold even beyond the Hastert guideline.

You may think this doesn’t happen often, but it does. From the Wikipedia article on the Hastert Rule discussing the Fiscal Cliff bill of 2012 (bolding added by me).

The bill’s passage marked the first time in more than ten years that a measure passed a Republican-controlled House when opposed by a majority of House Republicans.

Can’t everyday citizens just ignore this backstage political maneuver?

Only if we don’t care that modern day Grinch like Paul Ryan and Dennis Hastert have feasted on our democracy.

Program for graphical representation of parties in the House of Representatives


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