Hastert has proven more effective than virtually any previous Speaker at enforcing party discipline during votes. As a result, he can essentially focus exclusively on the 229 (soon to be 233) Republicans: whatever the majority of the Republican caucus wants -- i.e. 115 (soon to be 117) congressmen -- becomes the legislative agenda, and the whole caucus is expected to fall into voting line. Insofar as this strategy succeeds, the Democrats can be completely ignored.
Some scholars say Hastert's decision should not come as a surprise. In a little-noticed speech in the Capitol a year ago, Hastert said one of his principles as speaker is "to please the majority of the majority."
"On occasion, a particular issue might excite a majority made up mostly of the minority," he continued. "Campaign finance is a particularly good example of this phenomenon. The job of speaker is not to expedite legislation that runs counter to the wishes of the majority of his majority."
The functional result is that the legislative agenda is being effectively determined by 27% of Congress. Even where a vast majority of Congress -- say, the whole Democratic caucus and civic-minded Republicans -- support a given piece of legislation (as, for example, with the intelligence reform bill to enact the 9-11 Commission's recommendations), Hastert won't let it even come a vote if "the majority of the majority" (i.e. 27% of Congress) opposes the legislation.
Now, Hastert and the Republicans are playing by the rules, so the point is not that this approach to governing is anti-democratic in any procedural way. However, it is strongly anti-democratic in a functional sense; that is, it is an approach to legislating that is explicitly designed to prevent the enactment of legislation that the vast majority of Americans (or their representatives) want.
Given this context, there are two critical challenges for the party of opposition. The first is to find issues that expose this functionally anti-democratic tendency, and to make sure that the national press stays focused on these issues. The goal here is to expose how Hastert's 27% (i.e. 117 congressmen) is thwarting the will of 73% of the country. (I'm just guessing, but I have a feeling that social security "reform" (i.e. abolition) and the appointment of extremist judges will provide exactly such opportunities.)
As the first strategy succeeds, the second challenge is to undermine the solidity of the Republican voting bloc. Hastert can only get away with this approach to governing, after all, by getting the moderate members of the Republican caucus to vote in accord with the wishes of the extremist "majority of the majority." However, if the House Republicans are successfully exposed as the party of the extremist 27%, then the Republicans in more moderate districts will start to get scared that their voting record will alienate their constituents.
Here's where we as citizens can help. Bloggers (and the local press) should focus on the voting records of Republicans in moderate districts, showing how they are becoming the lickspittles of the wingjob "majority of the majority."
To help us in this effort, it would behoove the Democrats to get a list of Republican congressmen in districts that voted for Kerry, and to get the press to focus intensely on how they vote. (I was going to compile this list myself, but I haven't been able to find a record of presidential voting by congressional district for 2004. Does anyone knows where this data can be found? Maybe this is something the Center for American Progress can help with?)