Boehner and the squeeze play

By Peter Fenn – 04/12/13 03:50 PM ET

The pundits have, as usual, been stating the obvious: The pressure on Speaker Boehner mounts as the likelihood of the Senate passing legislation on immigration, guns, and even budgets, increases.

In response to questions about whether he would invoke the so-called “Hastert Rule” — that you need a majority of your caucus before you even bring up legislation — he shot back, “it was never a rule to begin with.” Then, he used the qualifier that it was important to pass bills with “strong Republican support.”

Speaker Boehner gets it.

He has renegades in his caucus, a lot of them, who don’t want to see any of these pieces of legislation passed. But the country is going the other way and so are the Senate and the president. They are actually compromising, actually working across the aisle to get something done. Who would have thought?Speaker Boehner knows that if he bottles up bipartisan legislation that comes over from the Senate, or inserts poison pills, or plays games, the public will be furious with the Republican House. His Speakership could be in jeopardy with a loss of 17 House seats, much more than with a revolt from the right-wingers.

Let’s look a little closer at the Hastert Rule. As most know, Speaker Boehner brought up relief for Hurricane Sandy, the fiscal-cliff deal and the Violence Against Women Act all without a majority of his own caucus’s support. That got a lot of play.

But just this week the Speaker brought up a relatively minor bill to protect historic battlefields that a majority of his caucus did not support. The reason they didn’t support it? It cost about $50 million and the hard core was, as usual, going ballistic. There were 122 “no” votes from Republicans.

The Speaker has watched as between 120 and about 160 of his members vote in ideological lock step on such legislation.

But here is the kicker on the Hastert Rule: Over the last 20 years it has been deemed not “a rule” on 36 occasions. This includes not only when Hastert was Speaker but also Gingrich and Pelosi.

In other words, Speaker Boehner is right, and he must make the call on the upcoming legislation not on the basis of a precedent that doesn’t even exist but on what is best for the country and his party.

The consequence of taking a little heat from his right flank versus bottling up compromise legislation that the public wants is a no-brainer.

My guess is that the Speaker gets that and his message on Thursday was designed to make that clear to his caucus: Yes, I will listen to you but I’m not going off the high diving board into an empty pool.


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