Mike Kueber's Blog

February 4, 2013

Which party controls Congress?

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 9:11 am
Tags: ,

Recent developments in Washington regarding the debt ceiling and taxes suggest that the Democrats are in charge, even though 232 of the 435 congressmen in the House are Republicans. There are, however, nefarious procedural practices in both the House and Senate that should enable Republicans to easily block Obama initiatives.

The practice in the Senate is the well-known filibuster, which allows one windbag senator to prevent a vote on a bill unless at least 60 of the 100 senators vote to shut-up the windbag.  At the beginning of each session, the party in the majority has the power to eliminate the filibuster with a majority vote, and Democratic Leader Harry Reid seriously considered weakening it, but ultimately left it alone.  Thus, the Republicans with 45 senators for the next two years can block any action in the Senate.

The practice in the House is the less-known Hastert Rule, which directs the House Speaker John Boehner to allow a vote on a bill only if a majority of the majority supports it – i.e., at least 167 Republican congressmen must support a bill before a vote will be allowed.  Incongruously, a bill supported by only 160 Republicans and 200 Democrats would not be put to a vote.  How polarizing is that!

I’m not sure which is worse – the Republican minority in the Senate abusing the Democratic majority or the Republican majority in the House abusing the Democratic minority. 

Traditionally, both parties have taken advantage of the filibuster to block action in the Senate, By contrast, the Hastert Rule has been used  by Republican speakers Gingrich, Hastert, and Boehner, but not by Democratic speakers O’Neill, Foley, and Pelosi.  Recently, however, under the glare of national publicity, Speaker Boehner made two exceptions to the Hastert Rule – (1) the fiscal-cliff vote, and (2) the Sandy-relief bill – and it remains to be seen if those exceptions become the rule going forward. 

An article in the NY Times blog FiveThirtyEight yesterday discussed the potential impact of the Hastert Rule on the prospects for comprehensive immigration legislation.  Blogger Nate Silver showed how a majority of Republican congressmen had very few Hispanic constituents and thus might not be as eager as Republicans with a nationwide perspective to accommodate illegal immigrants.    

Clearly, the Hastert Rule enhances Republican control of the House, but just as clearly America will benefit if there is less concern about which party is in control and more concern about getting things done. 

Wouldn’t it be great to govern from the middle instead of from the extreme?



  1. I don’t see the right being extreme. The left wants to change the role if government in our lives. How is maintaining status quo extreme for a system that was the first to take the power from monarchs and give it to the people?


    Comment by Q — February 9, 2013 @ 4:51 pm | Reply

    • q, my reference to the extreme was related to a Bell curve. With that definition, the far left and far right would qualify as extreme regardless of the merit of their platform/position. You seem to be evoking Goldwater’s famous phrase – extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Ironically, many pundits of both stripes admit that America is a center-right country governed by the center-left. If you plug those sentiments into Lincoln’s phrase, you get “of the right, by the left, for the left.”

      Comment by Mike Kueber — February 10, 2013 @ 5:22 am | Reply

  2. ha, i got your point the first time. frankly, i think the far right and the far left both have facist tendencies to use law to limit behavior. but i don’t mean the far right. i mean the right. today, what the founders put in place circa 1796, is not extreme and neither is trying to keep the status quo. people say the founders didn’t imagine drones and automatic weapons when they drafted the 2nd amendment. yeah, well they didn’t imagine the internet or TV either yet the left doesn’t want to undo the 1st amendment… or do they (he says hunkering down and looking over his shoulder).


    Comment by q — February 10, 2013 @ 4:12 pm | Reply

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