Do you want to solve the debt ceiling crisis? Let Congress really vote
The headlines are wrong. The “no deal” they are referring to is just one between President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. There’s a different deal, a bipartisan debt ceiling deal in home-Yeah they vote
The House has already passed the bill that Republicans prefer, let’s call it Option 1. Option 2 could be a compromise bill cosponsored by a group of bipartisan representatives, perhaps one introduced by the Problem Solvers Caucus that raises the debt ceiling and includes more moderate cost reductions. And Option 3 should rationally be the president’s preferred bill: a “clean” debt ceiling bill that addresses only that immediate need. If these additional options made it to the House floor, there would be some degree of bipartisan support, with one or more taking the magical 218 years to pass.
Once Congress is freed to participate in the process of solving this problem—or, seen more cynically, once the shield that the President and the Speaker are currently providing them is stolen—the question may be how many, on both sides, dare to go on record that they prefer disaster? A clean debt ceiling bill needs just five Republicans to join all the Democrats in the House to pass. As the clock ticks down, it looks like there will be at least five Republicans, motivated by electoral principles or prospects, who will choose to avoid a global financial disaster rather than go down with the ship. Or perhaps, if Congress reclaimed its rightful power as a legislative branch, the Option 2 compromise bill would pass, since many Democrats would also like to see some fiscal sanity.
If any of these pass the Republican House with bipartisan votes, it’s doubtful the Senate will stand in the way of imminent default.
This is not to minimize the complexity of partisanship created by our divisive electoral system, which leads both sides to rationally prioritize their most intransigent voices because that is what it takes to win party primaries. That difficulty is no excuse for not demanding that Congress do its job: vote, negotiate and vote again until you get it done. It took 15 votes for this Congress to elect a Speaker, but they didn’t stop voting until they did. As we saw then, the transparency and accountability of casting a public vote has a motivating effect, absent from current machinations, which is desperately needed.
So why don’t you vote? Because look behind the scenes on Capitol Hill and you’ll find that another deal has already been made, and it’s a raw one for the American public. It’s an arrangement, one of many in our political system, designed to ensure that legislative bodies work for partisan gain rather than solve problems.
That little-known deal is called the Hastert Rule (named for a disgraced former House speaker), and its consequences are now playing out in a high-stakes political battle that could well lead to the first debt default. from United States. payments, an eventuality that should strike fear into all of us. But while the brinkmanship on the debt ceiling is causing appropriate panic among economists, business leaders, and responsible citizens of all stripes, the reasons for it (that deal I mentioned) should spark outrage among all voters. across the political spectrum.
Here’s why: Under Hastert’s rule, the Speaker will not allow a full vote on any bill unless a majority of the majority party (ie, the Speaker’s party) supports it. and that’s true even if a majority of the entire House would do vote to approve it. What’s worse: A newer version of the Hastert rule now in vogue charges that the Speaker should not allow a vote on any bill unless it can be passed with only majority party votes.
Although in this case the Speaker is a Republican, it should be noted that the Hastert Rule has become a well-accepted practice by all Speakers of the House, both Republicans and Democrats. And the Senate, now controlled by the Democrats, also has its own version, but more on that in a moment.
The rule is certainly not an official law or well-preserved point of order of the early United States Congresses. It is a cynical new tradition, embraced by the ruling parties and with the intention, yes, intended— to thwart bipartisanship if that crossing of party lines erodes the power of the majority in any way.
The consequences of this unfortunate rule boggle the mind. Consider that many potential bipartisan deals on important issues aren’t even worth negotiating, because unless the speakers ignore the Hastert Rule (which they do from time to time, but rarely), bipartisan legislation supported by the majority of the country or by a majority of the House (but not by a majority of the majority party) has no chance of passing, because there won’t even be a vote. It bears repeating: There won’t even be a vote on bills that could pass with bipartisan support…in our democracy.
Article One of the Constitution grants Congress the power to set the rules for its operation, and they do so at the opening of each Congress at the same time that they elect the Spokesperson. Those official rules combined with the other customary rules and practices of how laws are made combine to create what I call the “legislative machinery.” Our legislative machinery has been notoriously bipartisan and designed not to support bipartisan problem solving, but to entrench and divide the spoils of power. It allows each party’s naked electoral calculus to stifle the legislature’s ability to work collectively, even when voters want compromise and collaboration, and even when most representatives do.
Crazy. Think about it. In your firms, companies, and organizations, if you wanted to solve your biggest problems, I suspect that one thing you probably wouldn’t do is get everyone together and say, “Hey, before we get down to business, let’s count here, and split into two teams. of war.” But that’s how it is every day in Washington, DC, not because it’s broken, but because it works exactly as designed.
To be clear, while the focus at this point in the current crisis is on the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, the Democrats employ the same tools with equal enthusiasm. Note that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has already “guaranteed” that he will never allow a vote on the Republican debt ceiling bill that has already passed the House. If there were no more Hastert Rule, no nameless mirror in the Senate, and other practices like these, it would be much easier to solve challenges like the one before us now.
The good news for this crisis is that the Hastert Rule is not a rule at all. It’s a wink-and-nod agreement, a shady practice perfected in the proverbial smoke-filled rooms of the Capitol. It can be scrapped much faster than intended and in time to avoid the catastrophe of non-compliance.
As? The American people have to demand it. The call for united public and business voices should be clear to both Chairman McCarthy and Majority Leader Schumer: Let Congress vote.
Katherine Gehl is co-author of The Political Industry: How Political Innovation Can Break Partisan Grief and Save Our Democracy.
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