Powers of the Speaker of the House

I was listening to NPR today and may have misheard what was said, but they were talking about a bill in the US Senate that failed to pass, but that it didn’t really matter since the Speaker of the House said that he wouldn’t let it come up fin the House.

Really? So the Speaker of the House has absolute say on what the House debates and what bills get voted on?

That seems like a ridiculous amount of power in the hands of one person. It also means that the party in power can keep any minority bill from seeing the light of day, which doesn’t seem quite right to me.

Can someone please fight my ignorance?

Look up Hastert Rule.

Thanks Omar. According to wikiat least there is theoretically a way to beat it…

“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.”

Why doesn’t someone challenge the constitutionality of this rule? It seems like all of the Democratic politicians should be reading about and seriously consider challenging this rule that allows a single person to block the entire House of Congress.

In a way the Speaker of the House has more authority with regard to making law than the president does.

It’s majority rule: the Speaker is there because he/she is supported by a majority of the House, and a majority can always change the situation if it wants to.

The Constitution grants each House the power to make its own rules. If the House don’t like it, they are the ones who can change it. But they haven’t.

Any attempt to challenge a procedural rule in the courts would be dismissed as a political question.

The part I don’t get is that if the majority of the house is in favor of something, but the Speaker doesn’t agree with it, it will never pass unless there is a discharge petition, which is extremely rare, which means that if 434 house members want to pass a particular bill, but the only house member who doesn’t want to pass it happens to be the Speaker, it will never pass. How does that make any sense?

Forgetting about fairness, how is it in the interest of the majority party to block the will of the ‘majority of the house members’? Why does it matter if the majority of the majority is in favor of it or not?

Is the Hastert rule an actual agreed upon congressional rule, or just how things work? Does the Senate have the same ‘rule’ in place?

If those 434 members support a bill, they can sign a discharge petition. A discharge petition is rare because the Speaker generally pays attention to what his/her fellow party members want.

Look at it this way. A majority of the people in a Congressional district approve of a bill, but their representative doesn’t. Forget about fairness. The real question is one that has been debated since the beginning: should a representative vote according to the majority or according to a personal understanding of what it best?

There is no obvious answer to this, and no obvious way to apply it to all bills. It may be best to vote one way at times and the other way at other times.

There is also no obvious way to judge the representative. You can certainly disagree with the voting on any one issue. The question then becomes how to weigh that disagreement in the context of all the issues that arise over an entire term. For most people, that one issue has to be extraordinarily important to override general agreement on other issues.

Now apply this to the case of the Speaker. He or she is the elected representative of the majority party. He or she has been tasked to determine what is best for the party as a whole. If the majority of that party has sufficient cause, they can vote in a new Speaker, but that cause better be sufficient as all hell because anything less will undercut the authority of the new Speaker. Until that time, better to go along with the Speaker because that is the entire point of representative government. If you want the majority to rule on every single issue with no overall guiding principles, you need to move to direct democracy. But nobody sane thinks that can actually work. And certainly nobody in representative politics thinks it can because they are part of an extremely successful system that has thrived for centuries allowing representatives to represent rather than merely serve.

It is not a formal rule, it’s a political rule of thumb. If a Speaker were to frequently bring bills to the floor that pass with barely any votes from the party which controls the chamber, that person it’s going to be Speaker for very long. However, it is “violated” often enough to show it isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. Recent example.

The Senate has no discharge petition. The Majority Leader has nearly total say over the Senate’s schedule, with very minor exceptions.

Putting aside fairness, we have a two party system, with the parties generally opposed to each other on most issues. So, if there’s a bill that’s pretty much only backed by the minority party, and that the majority party thinks as a whole is a bad bill, it’s in the interst of the majority party to block it, because the majority party doesn’t want bad bills or bills that go against their position passed.

No, the Senate has the filibuster rule.

I suppose the dems can play the same game when, and if, they ever have the majority again. Ignorance fought.

If a bill failed to pass in the Senate, why bother introducing it in the House? It’s got to pass in the Senate and House before it can become a law.

Of course… but the point was that it didn’t matter since the House would never bring it up for a vote anyway.

Since the Senate is run by the democrats and the house is run by the republicans I don’t see anything getting through both houses other than spending bills that have to be passed to keep the government running…

To score political points, of course. The person who introduced the bill and his party can go to their constituents and say, “We did our part. It’s the fault of the other people that it didn’t pass.”

Another version of this can be used to force somebody to make a vote that might be hard to defend in the next election.

That makes sense, right?

Our separation of powers gives the President the responsibility for implementing/executing laws, and the Legislature the responsibility for “making law”.

You realize that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) frequently refuses to allow a vote on bills passed by the House.

Yes, and that’s why divided government works so well in the US.