Hey there, Mr. Speaker.
Good to hear that you've decided that the United States shouldn't default on its obligations, and that you're willing to violate the "Hastert Rule" — the informal rule that the Speaker shouldn't bring up a bill that doesn't have the support of a majority of Republicans, even if the bill does have the support of a majority of the members of Congress — to protect the full faith and credit of the United States.
But what about the full faith and credit of all the hardworking folks who aren't getting paid right now because your friends on the right are playing games with people's lives?
No one wants to see the United States default.
But what about all the folks who are facing default because they aren't getting paid anymore?
Maybe you can explain to us why, if a majority of members of Congress are willing to end this irresponsible shutdown, you won't bring that to a vote.
Oh, I know the answer. It's because that majority has too many Democrats and too few Republicans for your liking.
I can just imagine the dinner table conversation. Sorry, kids, we can't pay the mortgage; we're not going to Yosemite; the E-Verify system is down and so I can't get hired; we can't buy the house we've been saving for, can't get mortgage approval, can't get a loan for our business, can't sign up for a clinical trial — even though a majority of the members of Congress are against this shutdown — because of the Hastert Rule.
Yes, that's right: the Hastert Rule.
Now, my bet is that most Americans don't even know who Hastert is, much less why he has a rule that was never actually "passed" by anyone but is still more important than their getting a paycheck or buying a house or starting a business.
And if they do know who he is, they might ask — reasonably enough — why such an "informal" rule is more important than majority rule, and why a minority (the right wing) of the majority party (Republicans) should have more power than the majority of the whole House.
This is not the way they teach things in high school civics.
Truth be told, Mr. Speaker, no one can force you to follow the Hastert Rule. You do, except when you don't — for instance, when we were heading over the fiscal cliff, or when your right-wing members didn't want to provide help for the victims of Superstorm Sandy or pass the Violence Against Women Act. All three were passed by a coalition of sensible and moderate Republicans and Democrats.
Some of us actually think that's how Congress should work: the majority rules. The center holds. The lives of hardworking Americans don't get held hostage by an ideological minority that would rather play games. An "informal rule" shouldn't prevent you from getting paid or shut down the parks or leave first-time homebuyers unable to get approval for mortgage assistance.
And lest anybody has forgotten, all of this is happening because that minority of the majority wants to remind us (as if we didn't know) that they oppose Obamacare — which is taking effect anyway. No other reason. No other purpose. Pure symbolism.
Now, imagine this. Imagine that instead of throwing a temper tantrum and playing games, the people we elected to represent us took it upon themselves to try to fix some of the problems with Obamacare. Imagine that they said to themselves: We tried to stop it, but that didn't work, and then we lost the election. So now it's our job to make it work as well as possible, because that would be in the best interests of the people we represent. Instead of being sore losers, we should do our jobs.
I know. It's a fantasy, expecting these members of Congress to behave like grownups instead of spoiled brats.
Dear John: Enough is enough. Grow up or go.
(Susan Estrich is a professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law Center. A best-selling author, lawyer and politician, as well as a teacher, she first gained national prominence as national campaign manager for Dukakis for President in 1988.)