As indictments rain down on former Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert (R-IL), it’s about time we took a look back at the legacy he left us and the disservice he did our country with the creation of the “Hastert Rule”. The rule is a collective obstinacy where the House Speaker, who decides what bills will be considered, will only bring to the table bills that have support from the majority of the majority- in this case, Republicans- effectively locking bipartisan efforts out of the process entirely.
If 170 Democrats and 50 Republicans support a bill, it still wouldn’t get considered because it’s short of the majority. In 2013, Hastert said that “If you start to rely on the minority to get the majority of your votes, then all of the sudden you’re not running the shop anymore. I think that’s what it comes down to.” It’s an appalling statement that goes against the spirit of negotiation and compromise for the betterment of the nation that our democracy was founded on. At this point, that’s the kind of attitude we can expect from a man who accepted bribes from foreign governments in exchange for his votes and was recently indicted for paying hush money to cover up the sexual abuse of a student.
The Republican House under President Obama has wielded the Hastert Rule like a sledgehammer, creating the partisan gridlock that has crippled legislative efforts to achieve any kind of substantial progress in our nation. It has been used to prevent discussing immigration reform and blocking the re-opening of the government after the shutdown and other critical legislation.
The irony of it all is that the “rule” is violated constantly by all Speakers- Hastert himself violated it twelve times, because the job of the Speaker is to get bills passed. Which brings us to the real reason the Hastert rule has risen to such prominence in the Republican house. It provides a convenient excuse to pick and choose legislation, masking their dutiful obedience to their corporate masters, the lobbyists and the Super PACs and ALEC. If all it takes for our democracy to gridlock is an informal guideline pulled out of thin air by an ornery right-winger with a rap sheet of ethics violations, then maybe there’s something wrong with the system.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.