Would Boehner break the “Hastert Rule” to avoid a shutdown?

He's so emotional.
He’s so emotional.
At the time of this writing we’re right around 8 hours away from a government shutdown.

The Senate was back in session to address the bill passed by the House over the weekend. The House bill delays, rather than defunds the Affordable Care Act for a year.

The Senate tabled the motion, meaning that their last offer to the House…a clean spending bill with no exceptions…is their final offer.

So the questions you’ll hear from the punditocracy is what will the House GOP do? Because seriously, they’re between a rock and a hard place.

Reality Check

Shutting down the government is really unpopular. I mean, I pay taxes all year round for the government to be funded all year round. If the people holding the purse strings (Congress) can’t get that done, then what the hell good are they?

And that, basically sums up the response to the 1995/96 shutdowns, and will most likely be the same response now.

But for the House GOP, it’s a little more dire. From a CNN poll released today:

• 46% of people polled would blame the House GOP, as opposed to 36% for President Obama

• 69% of respondents said the House GOP was behaving like a “spoiled child”.

• 60% of poll participants reject the GOP’s approach and think it is more important to avoid a shutdown than to make major changes to the Affordable Care Act.

Whether you believe in polling or not, those last two numbers are pretty compelling.

So the question becomes: will the House GOP go for broke or will they bend a little and save themselves the ire of the public.

Right now it seems like they will go for broke…literally.

Boehner’s Dilema

While common sense Americans think this whole thing is ridiculous (it is), House Speaker Boehner is between a rock and a hard place politically.

The House GOP caucus stands at 230 members, about half of which are hardliners. They will not bend. So the larger political issue (the shutdown) gets lost in smaller political the issues of the caucus (unity and retaining leadership), consequences be damned.

The House GOP has, for the majority of the past two decades, held to a standard called the “Hastert Rule”. This unwritten rule says that any measure that cannot pass without the majority of the majority should not be considered. The rationale behind this is that former Speaker Hastert believed the House Majority should not abdicate political victories, even if it was for the good of the country.

However, Speaker Boehner has run afoul of the “Hastert Rule” on at least three previous occasions. In doing so, he has put his leadership post in jeopardy by the hardliners.

But to pass the Senate’s clean funding bill, all the Speaker would need to do is:

1. Bring the measure to the floor.

2. Get 30-40 Republicans to vote for it (several were already cracking Saturday).

Boehner fears the fallout of those two actions might be losing his speakership…something that would be bad for Democrats…which is not to say his leadership has necessarily been good for our causes…but that the result would be worse, if that’s imaginable.

There’s also the chance that the measure might fail (though unlikely), which would mean the Speaker had spent political capital for no good reason. No one in leadership of any organization wants that to happen.

So Speaker Boehner would need assurances from Democrats that the spending measure, that includes spending cuts Democrats abhor, would have their support, and then he’d still need to find a gaggle (30-40 or more to be safe) Republicans that would support the clean bill.

Boehner already has OPP (other political problems) in the form of a primary challenge at home, though its unlikely that his opponent will succeed. But this too, might be giving the speaker pause. It wasn’t that long ago that Speaker Foley was put out of office. Boehner was a wee pup in Congress when that happened. I have no doubt he remembers that…and worries…a lot about it.

Nose/Face/Spite/Fill-in-the-blanks

The ball is, and has been in the House GOP’s court. They have made this a drama. They have exposed themselves to ire and scrutiny of the public by overreaching. They have held long and hard even in the face of advice from GOP math messiah Karl Rove.

Its their shutdown…we’re just going to have to deal with it. And the most effective time to deal with it, will be in November ’14.

Until then, stock up on canned foods, freeze some meats, and schedule some extra volunteer work. People in real need are going to need help when the House GOP leadership lets internal politics trump the good of the nation.

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