Let’s consider recent bill to fund Superstorm Sandy relief. Let’s look at the process that led to its passage. The vote in the House was:
yea nay total Republicans 49 179 228 Democrats 192 1 193 total 241 180 421
This is a clear violation of the so-called Hastert rule, which says that the Speaker of the House should use his power to prevent the House from passing (or even voting on) a measure unless it enjoys support from a “majority of the majority” i.e. a majority of the members of the majority party. The rule is named for former Speaker Dennis Hastert, even though he inherited it from his predecessor, Newt Gingrich.
This rule has been violated only twice in 15 years, which is also twice in 15 days: once for the “fiscal cliff” vote on New Year’s Day, and once for the Sandy relief vote on January 15th.
If these violations of the Hastert rule are the start of a trend, it has tremendous significance. Mr. Boehner could decide he would rather work with moderate Democrats than work with the extreme elements of his own party. This would give him tremendous (but not unlimited) power to decide what would and would not be enacted.