The Fiscal Talks and the Hastert Rule

Via TPM’s Brian Beutler, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, offers an interesting explanation for John Boehner’s procrastination in pursuing a pre-January fiscal deal with the White House:

“I’m getting increasingly concerned that one of the reasons the Speaker is deciding to, I think, string out these discussions is that he wants to wait til January 3 when the election for Speaker takes place and he’s concerned that any agreement he reaches if it violated the so-called Hastert Rule could undermine support for him in his caucus and make it more difficult on January 3,” he told reporters at a Wednesday breakfast roundtable hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

The Hastert Rule is the informal but powerful guideline that the House GOP leadership must refuse to advance any legislation that doesn’t have majority backing in the House GOP Caucus. It was probably applied most rigorously by Tom DeLay, whose objective was to undercut any “centrist” Democratic influence in the House. For obvious reasons, it’s beloved by House conservative back-benchers who perpetually suspect their leadership–most especially the Orange Man from Ohio–of nefarious RINO intentions.

It’s not entirely clear to me that getting himself formally re-elected Speaker will protect Boehner’s back if he pursues a deal conservatives don’t like. But it would certainly take away the most immediate threat to his immediate power. And so we see him stall, as in constantly demanding the White House produce detailed “entitlement reform” proposals in exchange for the GOP’s vague commitment to some sort of higher revenues.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.