Majority of the majority
The majority of the majority is a governing principle (not a legal procedure) used by Republican Speakers of the House of Representatives since the mid-1990s to effectively limit the power of the minority party to bring bills up for a vote on the floor of the House. Under the majority of the majority doctrine, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives will not allow a vote on a bill unless a majority of the majority party supports the bill. This is sometimes referred to as the Hastert Rule, as its introduction is widely credited to former Speaker Dennis Hastert (1999-2007). However, Newt Gingrich, who directly preceded Hastert as Speaker (1995-1999), followed the same rule. Hastert was vocal in his support of the rule stating that his job was "to please the majority of the majority."
In practical terms, this has generally kept the minority party from passing bills with the assistance of a small number of members of the majority party. It takes 218 votes to pass a bill. Even when there are 218 votes to pass a bill, the rule prevents votes from taking place when those 218 votes do not include a majority of the majority party. If the Democrats are the minority party and the Republicans are the majority party, under the majority of the majority rule it would not be possible for 170 Democrats and 50 Republicans together to pass a bill, because 50 Republicans votes is far short of a majority of the majority party, so the Speaker would not allow a vote to take place. As an example, if the Republican Party is the majority party and has 234 seats in Congress, it would have to be known that there were 118 (117+1) Republican votes in support of legislation before a vote on the legislation would be scheduled. With less than 118 Republican votes, the legislation would be blocked even if 218 or more votes could be found between the two parties.
A discharge petition signed by 218 members (or more) from any party is the only way to force consideration of a bill that does not have the support of the Speaker. However, discharge petitions are rarely successful, as a member of the majority party defying their party's leadership by signing a discharge petition can expect retribution from the leadership.
Speakers' views of the rule
- Tip O'Neill (Speaker from 1977-1987): According to John Feehery, a Hastert aide and speechwriter who coined the term "majority of the majority," O'Neill let the Republicans "run the floor" because he didn't have the votes and because he believed that if he gave then-president Ronald Reagan "enough rope, he would end up strangling himself."
- Tom Foley: (1989-1995): In 2004, on the PBS NewsHour, Foley said, "I think you don't want to bring bills to the floor that a majority of your party is opposed to routinely but sometimes when a great issue is at stake, I think you need to do that."
- Newt Gingrich (1995-1999): Although the majority-of-the-majority rule had not been articulated at the time, Gingrich followed it in practice.
- Dennis Hastert (1999 - 2007): In 2003 Hastert said, "On occasion, a particular issue might excite a majority made up mostly of the minority. Campaign finance is a particularly good example of this phenomenon. [But] the job of speaker is not to expedite legislation that runs counter to the wishes of the majority of his majority."
- Nancy Pelosi (2007 - 2011): In May 2007 Pelosi said, "I have to take into consideration something broader than the majority of the majority in the Democratic Caucus." According to the Brookings Institution, she violated the majority-of-the-majority rule seven times during her four-year speakership.
- John Boehner (2011 - current): As of May 14, 2013, of the nine bills and joint resolutions passed by the 113th Congress, four of them were passed without a majority of the Republican caucus in support.
- In December 2012 Boehner told his caucus in a conference call "I’m not interested in passing something with mostly Democrat votes" and that did not have the support of the majority of the Republican caucus.  Nonetheless, Boehner allowed a vote on January 1, 2013 on the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (also known as the "fiscal cliff bill") with only 85 out of 241 Republicans in favor (a support level of only 35%) and the bill passed with the support of 90% of Democrats (172 out of 191). The bill's passage marked the first time in more than ten years that a measure passed a Republican-controlled House when opposed by a majority of House Republicans. In response, former House Speaker Hastert criticized Boehner for not adhering to the "majority of the majority" governing principle by saying, "Maybe you can do it once, maybe you can do it twice, but when you start making deals when you have to get Democrats to pass the legislation, you are not in power anymore."
- Two weeks later, on January 15, 2013, Boehner allowed a vote on aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy to take place without the support of a majority of the Republican caucus.  The vote passed with 241 votes, but only 49 of the votes were from Republicans or a mere 21% of the majority. Since then some notable Republicans have publicly questioned whether the "majority of the majority" rule is still viable or have proposed jettisoning it altogether.
- In spite of all the criticism, on February 28, 2013 Boehner brought a third bill for a vote on the floor of the house which did not have support of majority of Republicans. The bill, an extension of the Violence Against Women Act, received the vote of only 38% of the Republicans in the House of Representatives.
- On April 9, 2013, the "rule" was ignored a fourth time, on a bill about federal acquisition of historic sites. The bill was passed with more than two thirds of the House vote but without a majority of the GOP caucus.
Benefits and drawbacks
Commentators note that there are pros and cons to the "majority of the majority" rule. On the positive side, it ensures that no legislative proposal will counter to the wishes of the majority of the Speaker's caucus. It also all but ensures that the Speaker will keep his or her job. On the negative side, when combined with a systematic effort to marginalize the influence of the minority power, it can lead to a breakdown of the legislative process, radicalization of the members of the minority party, and legislation that does not reflect the broadest view and area of agreement.
Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, an opponent of the rule, has said the rule is a major reason why bills passed on a bipartisan basis in the Senate are often not later introduced in the House. He has also said that, as Speaker of the House, "you are the party leader, but you are ratified by the whole House. You are a constitutional officer," and that at crucial times a speaker must put the House ahead of his or her party.
Slate Magazine blogger Matthew Yglesias has contended that the rule, while flawed, is better than the alternatives and that the dynamic prior to its adoption was "a weird kind of super-empowerment of the Rules committee that allowed it to arbitrarily bottle up proposals."
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- Jake Sherman and Jonathan Allen (July 30, 2011). "Boehner seeks 'majority of the majority'". Politico.
- Michael Grunwald and Jim VandeHei (October 17, 2006). "Hastert's Team Mentality to Be Tested as Foley Scandal Unfolds". Washington Post.
- Feehery, John (August 1, 2011). "Majority of the majority". The Hill.
- Babington, Charles (November 27, 2004). "Hastert Launches a Partisan Policy". Washington Post.
- Welna, David (December 2, 2012). "The 3 Unofficial GOP Rules That Are Making A Deficit Deal Even Harder". NPR.
- Feehery, John (January 16, 2013). "Rules Are Made to Be Broken".
- "Congress Reaches Deal on Intelligence Bill". PBS. December 6, 2004.
- Davis, Susan (May 29, 2007). "Pelosi Brings End to ‘Hastert Rule’". Roll Call.
- Robillard, Kevin (May 14, 2013). "Nancy Pelosi: Female John Boehner would be called the 'weakest speaker'". Politico.
- Fitzgerald, Sandy (May 14, 2013). "Pelosi: Boehner 'Weakest Speaker in History'". Newsmax.
- Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan (December 27, 2012). "Fiscal cliff action shifts to Senate". Politico.
- Daniel Newhauser and Meredith Shiner (December 27, 2012). "Boehner 'Not Interested' in Bill That Most of GOP Would Reject". Roll Call.
- Janet Hook, Corey Boles, and Siobhan Hughes (January 2, 2013). "Congress Passes Cliff Deal". Wall Street Journal.
- Tomasky, Michael (January 2, 2013). "The End of the Hastert Rule". The Daily Beast.
- Karen Tumulty and Peter Wallsten (January 2, 2013). "Has the ‘fiscal cliff’ fight changed how Washington works?". Washington Post.
- Johnson, Luke (January 3, 2013). "Dennis Hastert Warns John Boehner About Leadership After Fiscal Cliff Deal".
- Robillard, Kevin (January 3, 2013). "Dennis Hastert warns Boehner on his ‘rule’". Politico.
- Goddard, Taegan (January 16, 2013). "Did Democrats finally find a way to bypass House Republicans?". The Week.
- Newhauser, Daniel (January 16, 2013). "'Hastert Rule' Takes Body Blows With Sandy, Cliff Votes". Roll Call.
- Yglesias, Matthew (January 17, 2013). "House GOP Considering New Strategy on Fiscal Issues: Surrender!". Slate.
- Frum, David (January 16, 2013). "Speaker Boehner, Ditch the Hastert Rule". The Daily Beast.
- Yglesias, Matthew (January 2, 2013). "Boehner to Reid: "Go F—— Yourself"; Why Party Cartels Matter". Slate.