Debt Deepens No Matter What Name You Use

For most of the past two decades, House members have been able to play a raise-the-debt-free card, enabling them to permit the government to go deeper into the red without conducting a politically painful stand-alone vote.

The mechanism was known as the “Gephardt rule,” after Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., who invented it in 1979, when he was but a junior House member.

But in April, Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, referred to it as “the Hastert rule,” after House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. Now that vernacular has crossed the political divide.

When discussing the procedure — under which the House automatically passes a debt-ceiling increase upon adoption by the House and Senate of a budget resolution conference report — Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., pointedly followed DeLay’s lead on Tuesday.

The name changed “when Hastert became the Speaker and put it back into effect” after a two-year break, Hoyer said. “It’s the Hastert rule now.”