A Hung House of Representatives

In about two weeks, Americans will go to the polls and decide which party will control the House of Representatives. Or will they? It seems to me that there is a real prospect of a “hung” House, by which I mean that neither party will emerge with a stable majority.

Consider what would happen if a party won the House, by say, two seats. The first problem is that it would only take a few defections from that majority to block the election of a Speaker. Without that election, no party can take control of the committees and of the floor. This has happened before (though not in recent decades) and basically led to chaos until a Speaker was chosen. Then there is a second problem. Even if the majority can elect the Speaker, every contested vote in the House would be a dicey prospect. A couple of illnesses or absences would block the majority from acting. That is not a fun prospect for the party whips. Third, a couple of vacancies (say some members die or resign due to a scandal) could cause the House to flip through the equivalent of a by-election where a zillion dollars would be poured into the race.

In a parliamentary system, a hung parliament where a coalition is not possible typically leads to a snap election, precisely so that these sorts of problems can be corrected. We, of course, cannot have a snap general election under the Constitution. We would instead be stuck with an unorganized House of Representatives for two years. Who needs that headache.

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1 Response

  1. dht says:

    One other possibility – the House refuses to seat certain members. Currently there are two members, Chris Collins (NY27) and Duncan Hunter (CA50) who are under indictment, but are both leading in polls for re-election. If either or both are convicted either before the new Congress, or shortly thereafter, each could be expelled, or fail to be seated.