The rule has been utterly key to the GOP's lockstep legislation philosophy, but it backfires when they want to support a bill the democrats are in on, but want to do it with a minority of members. The rule says that no bill gets brought to the floor of the House unless a majority of the majority support it. Basically it needs to have significant Republican support, or it goes nowhere. This prevents moderate Republicans from working with moderate Democrats to get things done. You can see how this rule would be good for Republican solidarity, but for--y'know--actual governance. Hastert rule no more? House GOP considering surrender on fiscal issues.
As I've been emphasizing for a while, the key to standoffs between the Obama administration and the House of Representatives is the party cartel dynamic unleashed by the Hastert Rule. But the deal that resolved the fiscal cliff ultimately involved breaking the Hastert Rule. So did the bill to fund relief efforts for Hurricane Sandy. And there are no indications this week that sporadic ditching of the Hastert Rule may become the key survival strategy for House Republicans on fiscal issues. In essence, they'll throw in the towel and beat a tactical retreat. The way the Hastert Rule (which, as Sarah Binder writes, was de facto in effect before Hastert gave it a name) works is that for a bill to be brought to the House floor it must be supported by a "majority of the majority." That means that for the White House to strike a deal, it can't bargain with the median House member (a Republican who might conceivably lose his seat to a Democratic challenger) and then bring liberal members along for the ride. It has to strike a deal with the median member of the House GOP caucus (a Republican whose only chance of losing is from a right-wing primary challenger), which is extremely difficult. But of course there's no need to actually enforce the Hastert Rule if the majority of the caucus doesn't want it enforced. Ashley Parker refers to the "Vote No / Hope Yes" caucus within the GOP—members who wanted a Sandy relief bill to pass (so Republicans wouldn't take blame for blocking it) but also didn't want to vote for it (so they wouldn't be vulnerable to charges of ideological impurity). If the Vote No / Hope Yes caucus is large enough, then it's possible for Republicans to let Democrats pass crisis averting legislation—a debt ceiling increase, an extension of appropriations bills—with just a tiny bit of GOP cover or GOP "present" votes. And it turns out that David Schnittger, John Boehner's chief of staff, tweeted a link to an article by Dennis Hastert's former spokesman advocating that the House Republicans do just that: Abandon the Hastert Rule and basically duck and cover. Philip Klein in the Washington Examiner has an op-ed also advocating fiscal surrender and wrapping it up in a lot of complicated rhetoric and analogies to make it sound bold and aggressive. Last but by no means least, Paul Ryan apparently told reporters at today's House GOP retreat that part of the purpose of the retreat is to help members "recognize the realities" of divided government.