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Minority rule? WHY not MAJORITY rule?

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John W. Eyster
October 4, 2013

As the shutdown of our US Government continues, many American citizens are asking, “What happened to majority rule?”  It is clear that IF a CLEAN Continuing Resolution were to be brought to the floor our House by Speaker Boehner, it would pass with DEMOCRAT and REPUBLICAN votes.  In fact, the Speaker needs only to bring the Senate passed bill to the floor – this is a CLEAN Continuing Resolution with the same budget dollars as passed by the House.  The ONLY difference is that the Patient Protection & Affordable Healthcare Act provision in the original House passed bill has been deleted.  WHY NOT VOTE?

The most informative article I have read on the situation is Brendan Greeley's October 2 article published by Bloomberg BusinessWeek, “Why John Boehner Won't Hold a Vote to Reopen the Government.”

I recommend that you read the full article to gain understanding of the situation.  Having reviewed the history of the speakership, Greeley picks up with the speakership of Dennis Hastert (R-IL), “Then Dennis Hastert, the Republican Speaker during most of George W. Bush's presidency, took this demand for loyalty to party still further. The Hastert Rule, an informal edict not codified in any book and yet still rigorously adhered to today, instructs the speaker not to bring any bill to the floor that does not have the support of the majority of the majority. The rule was simply the logical end of a long-term trend. The party—both parties—had become more important than the House's bills. Even a passable bill, if it doesn't pass with the consent of the party, is not worth passing.

He picks up on the current House vote to reopen the government later in his article, “The simplest way for the Republican Party to broaden its appeal might be the same as the way out of the shutdown. Let the Tea Party Caucus be the Tea Party Caucus. That's what its members were democratically elected to do. But don't allow them to run the place simply because they wave the Hastert Rule. The party itself is already less homogenous than it was not long ago. Such party discipline clearly isn't possible; it might not even be necessary. If Republicans let their party structure in Congress become weaker, they may find it not only easier to get things done, but easier to get a lot more Republicans elected.”

WHY NOT LET ALL MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE VOTE ON THIS AND ALL OTHER BILLS?  Truth be told:  Many bills would pass if they were brought to the floor for a vote.  Another bill which was discussed on Wisconsin Public Radio's “Joy Cardin Show” yesterday with long-serving US House Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) was IMMIGRATION REFORM.  Again, WHY NOT let all members of OUR (NOT BOEHNER's, NOT GOPs) HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES VOTE? What do YOU think?

The reality right now is that we have a small group of members of OUR HOUSE who are holding the whole nation hostage.  The British Guardian reported, “Harry Reid, the Senate leader who on Saturday said he would refuse to bow to 'Tea Party anarchists' showed no interest in negotiating with Republicans over the stalemate.”  “anarchists”?  What do YOU think? 

Whatever label one puts on this group, it is about 10% of the 435 member House.  Should 10% decide what the WHOLE HOUSE of OUR (WE THE PEOPLE) REPRESENTATIVES VOTE ON?  I do NOT think so.  What do YOU think?

There have been times when Speaker Boehner has brought a bill to the floor so ALL members of the HOUSE could vote on it and it did pass.  A key example would be the debt limit bill which Boehner brought to the floor in August 2011 so ALL MEMBERS could vote on it … and the debt limit was appropriate increased.  After all, CONGRESS has approved every penny in the debt, so they are LEGALLY APPROVED BILLS which MUST be paid.  WHY NOT?

I believe that President Obama has it correct, IF SPEAKER BOEHNER were to bring the Senate passed CLEAN CONTINUING RESOLUTION to the floor today, it would PASS with a MAJORITY vote of our US House and when signed by President Obama, our US Government would be RE-OPENED.  WHY NOT TODAY?

IF you want to learn more about WHY Speaker Boehner is NOT bringing a CLEAN Continuing Resolution to the House floor for ALL MEMBERS to vote on, I recommend reading Paul Kane's article in the Washington Post yesterday, “John Boehner, between a rock and a hard place on shutdown and debt limit.”

Kane notes, “House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has at his disposal the political tools to reopen the government at a moment's notice. But he would have to rely on an uneasy coalition of Democrats and weeks. Such a move could provide a political escape hatch for Republicans who have been shouldering much of the public blame for the shutdown.”          He deftly analyzes what he says are a host of dynamics in the GOP have forced him to align himself with a camp of hard-core conservatives who, for much of the past three years, have made his life miserable.

Kane observes, “Boehner's unyielding position on the six-week government funding bill, which the Senate passed, is a testament to the power of that conservative bloc and a concession to its members. The insurgents are now his palace guards.”

I think it is very important to note Kane's calculation of the votes, “There are 200 Democrats in the House, and Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) pledged Wednesday that “all of 'em” would vote for a bill to fund the government at current levels through mid-November. At least 18 Republicans have vowed to support such a funding resolution, giving a majority of House members support for the Democratic plan.”

One needs to recognize the strategy used by Speaker Boehner as noted by Kane, “Boehner's leadership team has on three occasions this year watched the Democrats effectively become the ruling party by passing key legislation that most Republicans opposed.”  He continues to review those specific situations.

What will Speaker Boehner do NOW?  What do YOU expect?


John W. Eyster lives in the Edgerton area. He is an adjunct professor of political science at UW-Whitewater and an advocate for Project Citizen, a model curriculum for democracy/civics education in Wisconsin high schools. John is a community blogger and is not a part of The Gazette staff. His opinion is not necessarily that of the The Gazette staff or management.


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