J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press
A quick look at the House vote on $50.7 billion in federal aid to repair the damage from Hurricane Sandy suggests that it passed pretty easily on Tuesday night, 241 to 180. The real news is in how the two parties split: Republicans voted overwhelmingly against it, while all but one Democrat supported it.
Only 49 House Republicans agreed to help the East Coast at a moment of serious need, while 179 said no. That vote will be remembered in this region when natural disasters strike areas largely represented by Republicans. But the bigger point is that the bill passed anyway, and was sent to the Senate, despite lopsided opposition from the party that controls the House.
That’s because Speaker John Boehner agreed to allow actual democracy to work in the chamber he closely manages. Hard-right Republicans weren’t stifled — they were allowed to propose an amendment that would offset the cost of the aid by cutting other spending across the board. The amendment came to a vote and failed, largely because less extreme Republicans didn’t want to cut military spending. That’s how the House is supposed to work, but rarely does.
The final vote passed only because Democrats were allowed to constitute the majority of its support, in violation of the informal Republican rule that major legislation should require the votes of most Republicans. That practice, known as the Hastert Rule for the former speaker who codified it, is along with the Senate filibuster the reason Congress rarely gets anything done.
When the House follows the rule, it often passes extremist legislation that goes nowhere. When it doesn’t, things happen. The fiscal cliff bill earlier this month passed only because Mr. Boehner allowed it on the floor, despite objections from most Republicans. (Party members voted 151-to-85 against it.) If Congress is to pass a serious gun control proposal, or an agreement to raise the debt ceiling or to prevent a government shutdown, it will probably have to happen with largely Democratic votes — and a decision by Mr. Boehner to do the right thing over the objections of a party determined to do otherwise.