When House Speaker John Boehner needs the votes to get something done, he turns to Democrats.
Yesterday, the House of Representatives finally voted
to approve long overdue relief aid for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. That's good news, and it's a story in and of itself, but there's another important story about vote—the measure passed despite overwhelming Republican opposition.
Here are the raw numbers:
Yeas: 241 (192 Democrats, 49 Republicans)
Nays: 180 ("Democrat" Jim Cooper + 179 Republicans)
This sort of thing isn't supposed to happen when Republicans control the house. Unlike Democrats, Republicans have a longstanding informal rule that no legislation will come up for a vote unless a majority of Republicans support it. That rule—dubbed the Hastert Rule after former GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert—is supposed to prevent outcomes like the one last night, where a united Democratic Party teams up with a divided GOP to pass legislation overwhelmingly opposed by Republicans.
But last night they ignored the rule—and it was the second time they ignored it this year. The first time was on New Year's Day, when 85 Republicans joined 172 Democrats in passing the tax cliff deal despite opposition from 151 Republicans.
Until 2013, the Hastert Rule had only been broken once before under John Boehner's speakership, and that was on an obscure measure dealing with weights and measurements. Moreover, on that vote Republicans were actually nearly evenly divided, with 118 Republicans supporting the bill and 122 opposing it. (Boehner didn't vote, so it was really 119 to 122.)
Now, however, Republicans have done it twice—and they've done it twice in two weeks. Not only that, but yesterday the fifth-ranking House Republican refused to rule out doing it again with the debt limit. Altogether, it's 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. And it's not just talking heads showing a lack of interest in brinksmanship. As Greg Sargent reported yesterday, there two Republican Senators have now gone on the record opposing a debt limit crisis.
And now that House Republicans have conducted back-to-back major votes in which they've basically ceded power to a coalition of Democrats and the handful of responsible Republicans, they've set a precedent—on major issues facing the nation, a minority of the House doesn't get veto power just because it happens to be a majority of the GOP. That precedent provides the only viable path forward on the debt limit and it is almost certainly the path that will ultimately be followed. The big question is whether it will tear apart the GOP in the process.