The US House of Congress has a rule currently where the leadership will not bring legislation up for a vote unless a majority of their own party supports it. This "Hastert rule", in my understanding, is not so much an official rule (though the term is recent) as a result of the system they use.

  • With plenty of caveats, the speaker of the house is who schedules legislation for a vote
  • The speaker is chosen by the majority party, which typically chooses them by a vote

So if a speaker allowed a floor vote on legislation that had wide bipartisan support but not the majority of their own party, they would be voted out of the speakership.

Is this broadly correct?

What is the history of this? Has it always been the case but not as noticeable due to lower amounts of partisanship or was there a rule change that set this mechanism in motion?


1 Answer 1


With plenty of caveats, the speaker of the house is who schedules legislation for a vote

This is not accurate. The House Rules Committee handles this, not the Speaker of the House by himself or herself. But, since the House Rules Committee is also controlled by the majority party, the incentives are more or less identical.

There has been no formal change in the rules on this in recent history, to the best of my knowledge.

So, you are broadly correct in the general gist of what you are suggesting and these incentives are longstanding.

Historically, there was more willingness to entertain votes on bills that did not have majority support from the party, particularly during the 1980s when Congress had a de facto three party system of Republicans, Northern Democrats and Southern Democrats. In that situation, Republicans advanced their agendas in the long run by offering some accommodations to Southern Democrats who often supported their positions, and visa versa, and there was some ideological overlap on a liberal-conservative scale between Republicans and Democrats in the House, something that is no longer the case.

The Rules Committee didn't always have an ironclad grip on which bills would receive votes in the House, but this has been the case for quite a long time, probably since the New Deal in the 1930s, at least.

The level of professionalism and structure in how Congress operates increased greatly after the U.S. Civil War and increased significantly again starting with the New Deal. In both cases, this was because the scope of the U.S. government's role relative to that of state governments increased greatly at those points in time.

Prior to the U.S. Civil War, the federal government was much more minimal in the functions it undertook to perform. This thin agenda reduced the perceived prestige involved in serving in Congress and the need to Congress to efficiently deal with legislation since there wasn't much of it. The need for tight organizational control in the pre-Civil War Congress was also reduced because it had fewer members then.

  • 1
    In general, the practice does rise from the Speaker and dates from the Speakership of Thomas Reed: npr.org/2011/05/29/136689237/…
    – user9790
    Jun 22, 2018 at 18:15
  • 1
    Also pretty good: fampeople.com/cat-thomas-brackett-reed
    – user9790
    Jun 22, 2018 at 18:22
  • @KDog As your links note, Thomas Reed, a Maine Republican, became Speaker in 1890. There may not have even been a Rules Committee with the agenda setting powers that it has today at that point. I merely note that today the role is handled by the Rules Committee, however it may have been handled previously.
    – ohwilleke
    Jun 22, 2018 at 19:32
  • "visa versa" *vice versa Jun 22, 2018 at 22:33
  • 1
    The answer says during the 1980s, but I'm affraid it means 1890s (or maybe 1880s).
    – Pere
    Jun 22, 2018 at 22:35

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .