Ditching the Hastert Rule: Could we actually have a functioning government one day?

What’s the “Hastert Rule”? Steve Benen explains: “Boehner is only supposed to bring bills to the floor that most of his own caucus supports (measures that enjoy a “majority of the majority”). The idea is, Republicans shouldn’t even consider bills if they’re dependent on Democratic votes to pass; the real power belongs in the hands of the House GOP’s far-right rank and file.”

What a way to run a railroad! A minority of the majority has been screwing around with the welfare of the entire country and the well-being of its people ever since the 2010 election — all because of a specific reindeer game they’re supposed to play each time they’re required to do their jobs. 

BUT the good news is that in the past two weeks, Boehner has ignored the Hastert Rule and passed (1) the fiscal cliff bill and (2) a Sandy disaster relief bill. [NOTE: nearly 80% of the House GOP -- 179 members -- voted against disaster relief for the victims of Hurricane Sandy]

Boehner’s new approach has Benen feeling cautiously optimistic:

“John Feehery, a former spokesperson and leading aide in Hastert’s office, published a piece today arguing that Boehner can’t stick to the rule if he expects to govern. [...] In a move that raised eyebrows this morning, Boehner’s deputy chief of staff promoted this Feehery piece on Twitter this morning.

This may seem like inside baseball, but it’s extremely important. If Boehner, in the name of getting stuff done, is open to bringing important bills to the floor, and passing them with mostly-Democratic support, the next two years will be far less ridiculous than the last two. It means a debt-ceiling crisis is less likely, comprehensive immigration reform is more likely, and meaningful action on preventing gun violence has a credible chance of success.”

Jed Lewison says this is “as clear a sign as you could possibly get that Republican leaders aren’t going to block a debt limit increase:

“Instead, they’ll let their members create as much drama as possible, but will in the end allow the a debt limit increase to come to the floor where it will pass with the backing of all or nearly all Democrats.

Yes, it’s true that far-right groups like Club for Growth, The Family Research Council, and The Heritage Foundation are still saber rattling about the debt limit. But these are the same clowns that were saber rattling about the Hurricane Sandy vote—and they lost. As Brian Beutler exhaustively outlines, every major sign points to a lack of resolve on the part of House Republican leadership to block an increase in the debt limit.”

Also? The Koch Brothers are now publicly instructing their congressional beneficiaries that the nation’s bills need to be paid.

The Republican hostage plan: monthly debt ceiling hikes until they can all agree on a ransom

Can you imagine the debt ceiling fight going month to month — for eternity? That’s John Boehner’s new vision for America, because even though Republicans know the debt ceiling has to be raised, they want to use it as leverage for all their demands. Forever.

Greg Sargent thinks it’s a sign that Republicans may not have the spine for a debt ceiling fight:

“Boehner does this by threatening to only agree to ‘monthly’ debt ceiling hikes. But this should be read, if anything, as a sign of weakness. It’s essentially a concession that the debt limit has to be raised; Boehner is merely threatening to drag his feet as he allows the inevitable to happen. But it’s just nonsense. The business community is not going to go for such a course of action, to put it mildly. And it risks dragging the country through monthly threats of default, a terrible thing to inflict on the American people.

Ultimately, what this highlights is the utter incoherence of the GOP position on the debt ceiling. Republican leaders know they have to raise the debt limit — they know the threat not to do this isn’t credible, and they need to signal to the business community that they don’t view this option seriously — yet they want to continue to use it as leverage to get what they want, anyway.”

Steve Benen agrees that it’s a sign of weakness:

“In order for a hostage standoff to work, everyone has to sincerely believe the hostage takers are prepared to follow through on their threats. In the case of the Republicans’ latest debt-ceiling crisis, that means President Obama and congressional Democrats have to be convinced that GOP policymakers will hurt Americans on purpose unless Dem meet Republicans’ demands.

[...] the fact that Boehner hedged at all on using the debt ceiling suggests there’s at least a small crack in the wall.Indeed, it’s not the only one. The Washington Post quoted Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.) the other day questioning the utility of the strategy, noting “no one knows the ramifications of not passing a debt ceiling increase.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was reluctant to rattle his saber, too, in his Sunday show appearances.

Newt Gingrich and the Wall Street Journal‘s conservative editorial board have also raised concerns about the apparent Republican plan. (I use the word “plan” loosely; to date GOP leaders have indicated they intend to hold the debt ceiling hostage, but they have not yet figured out what to put on the ransom note.)”

And Kevin Drum summarizes Boehner’s negotiating “skills” during the fiscal cliff negotiations — and what it probably means for future “negotiations” over the debt ceiling:

“Because in this case, the objective facts are really pretty clear. Boehner never once put forward a detailed plan, while Obama did repeatedly. And as Andrew says, Obama’s position moved in Boehner’s direction every time, with his revenue ask going down and his spending cuts going up.

In the end, though, Boehner just couldn’t make a deal. This isn’t because Obama was an arrogant bastard who never tried to understand their differences, it’s because a majority of Boehner’s caucus simply wasn’t willing to agree to a tax hike of any kind and Boehner wasn’t willing to back a plan that didn’t have majority GOP support. There’s really not much more to it than that. Boehner and Obama may well be tired of each other, but that’s not why their negotiations routinely fall apart. It’s because Boehner has no control over his own caucus.”

Is negotiating with lunatics and idiots — whose only concern is staying in their recently acquired, cushy, do-nothing jobs for life by answering only to the voters in their little gerrymandered districts — really what’s best for the country?

John Boehner’s fan club is getting smaller

A new Washington Post/ABC News poll finds 52% of Republican voters disapprove of the way House Speaker John Boehner handled the fiscal cliff negotiations, a 15-percentage point jump from December when the talks were ongoing. Among the most conservative Republican and independent voters, disapproval of Boehner spiked from 36% to 61%. — Political Wire

Sadly for our country, the conservative disapproval is probably because a deal was actually reached with Democratic support. Doesn’t matter if 99% of those disapproving won’t see their income tax increase… a deal happened before everything could be set on fire. They were promised chaos and destruction and all they got was a stupid tax cut.

Our third political party: the Dead-enders

[Tuesday] night was a preview of coming attractions. A day after the next deadline, the Senate’s bill will be jammed through the House with an almost completely intact Democratic caucus voting with 80 or 100 or however many Republicans are still interested in not destroying the country. In the meantime, almost nothing else will happen. For example, the House was supposed to vote on Hurricane Sandy relief before ending their session: no vote happened last night. Another way of looking at it is that we have a third party in DC. It has 150 votes in the House and 5 in the Senate. They stand for nothing, are led by nobody, and will obstruct everything, and we’re stuck with them for at least two more years. — mistermix

Gov. Chris Christie rips Boehner and the House majority

image: demnewswire

“There is only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims: the House majority and their speaker, John Boehner. This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. Natural disasters happen in red states and blue states and states with Democratic governors and Republican governors. We respond to innocent victims of natural disasters, not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Americans. Or at least we did until last night. Last night, politics was placed before oaths to serve our citizens. For me, it was disappointing and disgusting to watch.

Last night, the House of Representatives failed that most basic test of public service, and they did so with callous indifference to the suffering of the people of my state. Sixty-six days and counting — shame on you. Shame on Congress. Despite my anger and disappointment, my hope is that the good people in Congress — and there are good people in Congress — will prevail upon their colleagues to finally, finally put aside the politics and help our people now.”

— Governor Chris Christie, reacting to Rep. John Boehner’s refusal to allow a vote on an aid package for victims of Hurricane Sandy on Tuesday night.

TP Update: The New York Daily News reports that Boehner “yanked the bill to provide $60 billion in emergency aid to states ravaged by Hurricane Sandy to get back at a top lieutenant who defied him over the Fiscal Cliff fix.”


I agree with Christie but I’m surprised that he’s surprised. It’s disappointing he’s disappointed. It makes you wonder why Republicans continue to elect Republicans. What else can be said?

From Tuesday night:

An important reminder from Charles Johnson: “Even for someone not known for mincing words, Christie’s remarks were unusually pointed and direct; he called the House’s failure to act on the Sandy legislation “a disgrace” and “disgusting,” and said Speaker Boehner had refused to take four phone calls from him last night. Christie also made it clear that he thinks the “fiscal cliff” debate was a manufactured fiasco, calling it a “fake” and sarcastically referring to it as an “epic battle.” Note that Christie is still very much a right winger in every way that counts, so as entertaining as this might be, don’t get too starry-eyed about him. For example, even on issues like global warming, which arguably contributed to the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, Christie toes the anti-science Republican line.”

257 to 167

The measure, brought to the House floor less than 24 hours after its passage in the Senate, was approved 257 to 167, with 85 Republicans joining 172 Democrats in voting to allow income taxes to rise for the first time in two decades, in this case for the highest-earning Americans. Voting no were 151 Republicans and 16 Democrats. — NBC News

There’s an incredible number of articles / posts that are judging the “winners” and “losers” of yesterday’s lengthy House soap opera (see this). I happen agree with John Cole’s assessment the most:

The winners in all of this are Obama, the Senate, and Nancy, who once again impressively whipped her caucus and had only 16 no votes. The vote was effectively over when 30 Republicans voted in favor, but Pelosi still managed to keep all but 16. I have no idea who they are, but I am sure it will be an mix of folks voting against for idiosyncratic district regions and a few diehard progressives. Pelosi is perhaps the best leader I have ever seen at whipping her caucus. She’s better than DeLay, and she leaves no fingerprints. She’s really fucking amazing.

The biggest loser, I think, is Cantor, who came out against the bill before Boehner and then could not deliver 218 votes for an amended bill. Boehner probably worked with Pelosi and delivered the necessary votes from safe districts and then released others in more difficult situations to vote against. Don’t be confused by the small number of Republican “yea” votes, as right now, Cantor, Louis Gohmert, the teahadists, and manic progressives like Matt Stoller (all of whom are nihilists) are probably singing Bill Joel at a piano bar over scotch in Georgetown. Boehner’s support was deep enough in the caucus to deliver that many votes while releasing dozens of others to vote against, and he is probably safe as speaker. Cantor, I think, is done.

Boehner and Paul Ryan voted for the bill; “Dead Eyes” Cantor and Marco Rubio voted against it (let taxes go up on the real ‘Mericans!). The GOP presidential primary in 2016 will be interesting since Republican base-rubes are such complete masochists.

Boehner’s turn: the importance of timing and semantics

Boehner couldn’t get his caucus to agree on letting tax cuts expire for incomes over $1,000,000 — why would they now agree to expire the tax cuts on incomes at $400-$450,000 and over?

Steve Benen explains the importance of timing / semantics:

 It may seem like semantics, but after midnight, the rates go up automatically. Given this, if the Senate approves a package that applies lower rates to income up to $450,000 and higher rates on all income above $450,000, that vote is qualitatively different tomorrow than today — before midnight, it’s a vote to allow rates to go up on the very wealthy; after midnight, the rates for the wealthy would literally stay the same because they will have already gone up.

Republicans could vote, or at least consider voting, for a Senate package without anyone suggesting they voted for higher taxes. The Senate package, at least in its current, incomplete form, would be solely a tax break on income up to $450,000 — while maintaining a new status quo on rates applying to all additional income.

Would these nuances really matter than much to House Republicans? You bet they would.

On another note, unfortunately, even after eight years of war and economic crisis and bailouts, and one of the largest expansions of the federal government and the debt, George W. Bush continues to ‘win’ with the tax cuts still being dubbed “the Bush tax cuts.”

New Year’s Deal

Brian Beutler: “It took until after 2 a.m. on the morning of January 1, 2013 — a few hours after the Bush tax cuts had technically expired — but the Senate passed legislation that will reinstate tax cuts for middle-class taxpayers, and lock in a variety of higher rates on income above $450,000. [...]

By passing the legislation with overwhelming support from members of both parties, the Senate has handed House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) responsibility for following suit, and averting the vast majority of the austerity measures in the so-called fiscal cliff.

Just days ago, Boehner was unable to round up sufficient support in the House for legislation that would have locked in the Bush tax cuts for income up to $1 million. The Senate-passed legislation raises significantly more revenue than Boehner’s plan would have, and will provide the Treasury with more than $600 billion than it would have collected over the next 10 years if all the Bush tax cuts had been extended.”

Some data:

  • The final vote was 89-8. The eight senators opposing the bill were: Democrats Tom Carper (D-DE), Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Republicans Mike Lee (R-UT), Richard Shelby (D-AL), Rand Paul (R-KY), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Marco Rubio (R-FL).
  • Unemployment benefits are extended for a year.
  • The bill delays the sequester — and all the automatic, deep spending cuts to social safety net programs and defense — for two months, as well as delaying an increase in the deficit.
  • The House will take up the bill today in a rare New Year’s Day session.
  • And at least one positive thing can be said: no giveaway on Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid. Basically, no spending cuts at all
  • See Suzy Khimm’s Fiscal Cliff cheat sheet.

The losers:

  • Those of us who got a break on the payroll tax. That will expire.
  • Federal workers whose pay, for whatever reason, continues to be shackled to Congressional pay. Obama was going to lift the federal employee (and congressional) pay freeze, but now that’s reimposed.

I’m still not certain I care if the House passes this legislation or not. Is it worth another round of reindeer games in 2 months? If the House doesn’t pass this, it all will need to get fixed much sooner. That might not be a bad thing.

Everything you need to know about negotiating with the GOP in one paragraph

“Today’s Republican Party thinks the key problem America faces is out-of-control entitlement spending. But cutting entitlement spending is unpopular and the GOP’s coalition relies heavily on seniors. And so they don’t want to propose entitlement cuts. If possible, they’d even like to attack President Obama for proposing entitlement cuts. But they also want to see entitlements cut and will refuse to solve the fiscal cliff or raise the debt ceiling unless there are entitlement cuts.”

Ezra Klein

Fiscal cliff: “You can’t make big deals with a totally untrustworthy negotiating partner.”

Steve Benen: “To understand why constructive negotiations between the parties have proven to be so very difficult, look no further than this message from one of the Republican Party’s purported “rising stars.”

[...]  Either way, the far-right Floridian has summarized a larger problem in just 135 characters. Rubio wants Americans to believe Republicans didn’t push for chained CPI — which would reduce Social Security benefits — as part of the ongoing fiscal talks. We know this isn’t even close to being true — indeed, by yesterday afternoon, GOP senators had agreed to drop this demand that they’d fought for earlier in the day.

Paul Krugman added that Rubio’s bizarre falsehood is a reminder why it’s “crazy” to think Republicans would ever agree to a sensible Grand Bargain: “You can’t make big deals with a totally untrustworthy negotiating partner.”

It’s this kind of nonsense from the FOXpublicans that ensures we’ll be going over the cliff today. Fortunately, going over won’t be the end of the world.

Reindeer games on New Year’s Eve

McConnell called Biden into the negotiations yesterday, even though Biden has offered nothing different from Reid:

McConnell and Biden, who served in the Senate together for 23 years, are closing in on an agreement that would hike tax rates for families who earn more than $450,000, and individuals who make more than $400,000, according to sources familiar with talks.

The vice president and the Senate minority leader only began talking Sunday, after negotiations between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and McConnell sputtered.

Sources close to the talks said a deal is now more likely to come together but cautioned that obstacles remain, including how Speaker John Boehner and House Republican leaders react to any tentative agreement.

“The leader and the VP continued their discussion late into the evening and will continue to work toward a solution. More info as it becomes available,” a McConnell spokesman said.

Yesterday McConnell dropped one of his party’s demands — chained CPI:

Earlier in the day, negotiations between Reid and McConnell suffered a “major setback” after Republicans demanded the inclusion of a new method for calculating entitlement benefits as part of the cliff package, according to Democrats.

The provision, known as “chained CPI,” is opposed by many liberals because it would result in lower payments for Social Security beneficiaries.

[...] On the Senate floor early on Sunday, Reid ruled out any cuts to Social Security as part of any cliff agreement.

And what if we do go over the cliff?

Democrats later left a closed-door Democratic Caucus meeting on Sunday afternoon united, with many prepared to go over the cliff if no amenable deal is reached.

“The world won’t end — remember Y2K?” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). “If this thing goes on, all of a sudden, the people find out there’s a lot of revenue coming into the government — and we have a sequester that we can deal with in January and February, and I think we will. I think then perhaps — then Republicans won’t have to vote to raise taxes, we’ll all be voting to cut taxes.”

You know what? Finally we have a united Democratic Caucus willing to stand up to the Republicans. That’s a pretty good way to start a new year.

David Brooks: Republicans deserve most of the blame, have had “brain freeze” since election

“What’s happening in Washington right now is pathetic. When you think about what the revolutionary generation did, what the civil war generation did, what the World War II generation did — we’re asking not to bankrupt our children and we’ve got a shambolic, dysfunctional process. Most of the blame still has to go to the Republicans. They’ve had a brain freeze since the election. They have no strategy. They don’t know what they want. They haven’t decided what they want.”

— David Brooks, during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday.

Harry Reid this afternoon: “…we are apart on some pretty big issues.”

Pres. Obama was right. From Steve Benen:

“What seems to be the trouble? As of this afternoon, McConnell is demanding chained CPI, and wants more tax breaks for the wealthiest of the wealthy through higher estate-tax thresholds. He’s also refusing to include a debt-ceiling increase in the agreement.

Or put another way, in a literal sense, Republicans are holding up middle class tax breaks by demanding cuts to Social Security benefits and a tax break for the top 0.01% of the country — all while laying the groundwork for another hostage crisis in two months.”

Tell me again how both sides do it — how there’s no difference between the parties.

Republican priorities with fiscal cliff negotiations: estate taxes for the 0.01 percent!

Kevin Drum reports on what the fiscal cliff negotiations have come down to:

Senate negotiators labored over the weekend on a last-ditch plan to avert the “fiscal cliff,” struggling to resolve key differences over how many wealthy households should face higher income taxes in the new year and how to tax inherited estates.

….Negotiators were trying to resolve a dispute over the estate tax, a critical issue for Republicans who have dubbed it the “death tax” and argue that it punishes people who build successful businesses and family farms.

In an agreement brokered between McConnell and the White House in 2010, estates worth more than $5 million are exempted and taxed above that amount at 35 percent. Republicans want to maintain that structure, while Democrats want to drop the exemption to $3.5 million and raise the rate on larger estates to 45 percent.

Do you know how many people leave estates valued at more than $3.5 million? Something like 0.01 percent, give or take a bit. This is a tax that’s a huge deal for the super-rich, but completely irrelevant for nearly everyone else, including the merely ordinary rich. And needless to say, all the talk about small businesses and family farms is just a pretense. Virtually no family farms are affected, and the ones that are have extremely generous rules for dealing with estate taxes.

Meanwhile, Republican base voters are super-focused on gay marriage and buying as many guns as they can at Walmart. Because they’re smart!

35 hours (or so) to go: the Senate / Democratic Plan A and Plan B on tax rate increases

“…by all accounts, the Reid/McConnell agreement, if it exists, will not be a sweeping deal along the lines of a grand bargain. It would instead focus primarily on tax rates — the $400,000 income threshold increasingly appears to be a precondition for the GOP — extended unemployment insurance, the Medicare “doc fix,” the alternative minimum tax, the estate tax, and a series of tax incentives for businesses and families, many of which were included in the Recovery Act.

The Senate plan would not, if all goes according to plan, deal with the sequester, the existing payroll tax break, or the debt ceiling. Why not? Because Republicans still hope to continue work on a larger (grander) debt-reduction deal in the new year.

In other words, even if there’s unexpected progress today and tomorrow on Capitol Hill, some deadlines will go unmet and the stage will be set for yet another self-inflicted crisis in a couple of months.

While we wait to see if/when a Senate plan comes together, there is a contingency plan — apparently Democrats have a Plan B of their own — in the event McConnell and Reid can’t reach an agreement (or the Senate rejects their deal). On Monday, if all else fails, Reid will bring a simple package to the floor: lower rates on income up to $250,000 and extended jobless aid. That’s it. If Senate Republicans kill it, the deadlines will pass and Democrats will try again in 2013. If the Senate passes it and the House balks, we’ll see the same outcome.

Obama and Reid seem to like their chances: GOP officials don’t want their final act of this Congress to be a vote against middle-class tax breaks, and complete failure would almost certainly give Democrats leverage in the new year anyway.”

Steve Benen: Where things stand