The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

An excellent point from Speaker John Boehner

"Listen," House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday, "it was never a rule to begin with."

Boehner was talking about the so-called "Hastert rule," which says, roughly, that the speaker of the House shall not consider any legislation that does not command support from a majority of his own party. The result is that lots of legislation that could get a majority in the House never comes to a vote because it couldn't get a majority of the House Republican Conference.

But Boehner is right: There is no such thing as the Hastert rule. That's how Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert ran things when he was in charge -- though he, too, broke the rule on occasion. But there's no reason things have to be run that way. In that sense, the "Hastert Rule" is not like the filibuster, which actually is a rule of the Senate.

Ignoring the Hastert Guideline, the Hastert Precedent, or the Hastert Polarization Machine, or whatever you want to call it, has become the key to getting things done in the House.  It's how Boehner got the fiscal cliff deal passed, and how the aid for Hurricane Sandy got passed, and how the Violence Against Women Act got reauthorized. This week, Boehner ignored the Hastert rule to pass a $50 million bill to allow the federal government to buy land to protect historic battlefields.

Ignoring the rule has also become the key to resolving some of the toughest problems posed by the hardcore conservatives in the House Republican Conference. There's much that Republicans, to remain competitive nationally, need to pass but that a majority of their members don't want to vote for. Suspending the Hastert guideline lets Democrats take the heat for casting a "yes" vote, even as House leadership gets credit for passing the bill.

As The Post's Aaron Blake writes, if guns and immigration and any kind of budget compromise will pass the House, they, too, will require suspension of the Hastert whatever. But then, it was never a rule to begin with.