If you haven't heard of it, you aren't alone. A lot of Americans have no idea what causes excruciating political gridlock, so let me break it down for you.
Legislation presented to congress often follows the general preferential path of whatever party holds the House majority. It is known that many partisan bills never make it to the house floor simply due to not gaining enough supporters from the majority party at the time.
However, a less-known tradition known as the Hastert Rule, plagues the ability to bring forth legislation that is not supported by the majority of the majority party, often resulting in the progression of legislation that solely aligns with the Speaker of the House and their respective party.
The widespread acceptance of the Hastert Rule being applied to American politics is an inefficient tradition that stalls legislation, as well as blocks the ability for bipartisanship, ultimately resulting in political gridlock which goes against the foundation of our democracy.
The Hastert Rule has quickly become deeply ingrained within American politics, yet was only introduced in 2004 by Dennis Hastert. At the time, Dennis Hastert- a Republican from Illinois- was serving as the 51st Speaker of the House and still holds the title as the longest serving Republican Speaker.
As one blog stated for the reason Hastert first introduced this tradition in the house, “The logic behind the Hastert rule is that a Speaker first and foremost wants to remain Speaker.” The reason it is observed by the Republican party, is to maintain their control of the House, but in turn, Hastert put greater importance on keeping the majority party- which at the time was Republican- happy, as opposed to upholding the very foundation of American democracy. By prioritizing the Speaker keeping his or her seat, the minority party ultimately faces a system that works to ensure that their legislation never makes it to a committee hearing, and therefore creates a system in which bipartisanship is nearly impossible, ultimately giving the position of Speaker more direct influence than stated within the text of the constitution.
In more ways than one, there are strong reasons behind why the Hastert Rule was originally created and is now still observed. As defined by Taegan Goddard’s political dictionary, The Hastert Rule effectively created a system where, “Democrats were prevented from passing bills with the assistance of a small number of members of the majority party.” In turn, in order for the Democrats at the time to bring forth successful legislation, bills could not lean too heavily towards progressing solely the Democratic agenda, because the bill would not gain the support necessary from majority party members to be presented on the house floor. In September of 2013, tensions circulated around stripping provisions for Obamacare, which placed Speaker of the House, John Boehner, in a position of receiving incredible amounts of scrutiny from his caucus.
Although it can be argued that since the majority is elected directly by the people, that their legislation represents their constituents, yet sadly, this is simply not the case. Regardless of its intentions, the truth remains that due to the process of partisan gerrymandering, congressional redistricting often doesn’t end up accurately capturing constituents interests, which invalidates the legitimacy behind the claim that Hastert’s Rule places the interests of the American people first, before party politics.
There's many arguments for why the Hastert rule is often still observed in American politics today, with most of them focussing around whichever party is in control’s overall want to maintain the closest form of absolute power possible over the opposite respective party.
Through claiming the Hastert Rule for what legislation is presented, this ensures the majority of the majority is constantly pleased with the Speaker, as they are bringing forth legislation that has a greater chance of being passed, but also may face greater scrutiny from the minority party.
Additionally, although the Hastert Rule has the potential to quicken the process of the passage of bills, since the system has been in place, legislation has only been passed at an even slower rate than prior to Hastert’s term as Speaker. Prior to Hastert’s term, it was common for Congress at the time to enact over 600 pieces of legislation throughout their congressional cycle. Following his appointment, Congress peaked at 504 pieces of legislation being enacted by the 108th congress, comparatively however, only 1% of legislation has been enacted during the current 115th Congress.
The implementation of the Hastert rule within American politics, grants the Speaker of the House more power than allocated to him/her within the actual text of the United States Constitution. In turn, by allocating excessive amounts of power not explicitly stated within the constitution to the Speaker of the House, the system of checks and balances becomes skewed in favor of one individual and his/her’s respective party, which serves as an even greater threat than it skewing in favor of solely one branch.
Despite claims of the Hastert Rule progressing legislative agendas, the very construct of one individual determining what legislation is voted upon goes against the foundation of American democracy, by prioritizing the majority party’s agenda over the American people’s. Finally, by allowing for the Hastert Rule to be overlooked, House minority members opt to lose essential privileges- such as the ability to bring forth legislation for a vote- explicitly granted to them, resulting in the loss of their positions being recognized as significant.
So yeah. It sucks.