2013-10-17 / Nation

King: ‘Hastert rule’ added to gridlock


SEN. ANGUS KING SEN. ANGUS KING PORTLAND (AP) — A last-minute agreement by Senate leaders has averted a threatened Treasury default and reopened the federal government, but Congress is doomed to repeat itself unless the House leadership backs away from an unofficial GOP rule that has limited which proposals make it to the floor for a vote, Sen. Angus King says.

For weeks, House Speaker John Boehner declined to allow a vote on a “clean” spending bill that would’ve passed and averted the partial government shutdown, instead linking the bill’s passage to the repeal of certain parts of the 2010 federal health care law. On Wednesday, Boehner gave in to the compromise bill.

King, who criticized the Republicans’ so-called Hastert rule, invoked a British leader in giving some backhanded praise to Congress for reaching the compromise deal.

“Winston Churchill once famously observed that Americans will always do the right thing, only after they have tried everything else. I think the last two weeks demonstrates the wisdom of that observation,” he said Wednesday on the floor of the Senate.

King, an independent from Brunswick, was part of the “Gang of 14” moderate senators mobilized by Maine Republican Susan Collins that pressed for a compromise before Senate leaders announced Wednesday’s agreement. Under the plan, government would reopen through Jan. 15 and the Treasury would be authorized to continue borrowing through Feb. 7.

The Hastert rule came from former GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who had a policy of allowing votes only on those bills that were supported by a majority of Republican members during his eight years of leadership. Boehner has been careful never to officially embrace the Hastert rule. And he violated it several times before Wednesday on the fiscal cliff vote, the Violence Against Women Act and Superstorm Sandy aid.

Sandy Maisel, a political science professor at Colby College, said it’s shrewd for a party to invoke the Hastert rule but it’s bad for people because a minority can stall the work of Congress.

Before the agreement, King urged the scuttling of the Hastert rule, saying it could lead to the further undoing of efforts to find middle ground in a Congress already marked by deep-seated divisions.

“If we give into this, it’s going to fundamentally change the way we make laws. Normally you make laws by winning elections and achieving majorities in Congress and having a president from your party,” he said.

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