A discharge petition forces a vote on a piece of legislation if a straight majority of House members sign it. Though Democrats do not have a majority in the House, there are enough of them that they only require a handful of Republican signatures to reach the required number of 218.
If a vote happens, a “clean” bill to turn the government back on would pass. About 20 Republicans have stated that they would vote for it, giving them a majority with Democrats. But so far, Speaker of the House John Boehner has refused to permit a straight vote, even though most members of the House, as well as most of the Senate, want to pass such a bill. Democrats hope the Republicans who support such a vote will sign their discharge petition, thus forcing the vote they all want.
However, Democrats may encounter a great deal of difficulty in obtaining those few Republican signatures. No GOP House members have come out publicly in support of a discharge petition. Representative Peter King, who has criticized the government shutdown and the conservative wing of his own party, has many times indicated he would vote for a “clean” bill to re-open government—but he told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday that he would not sign a discharge position to force a vote.
The discharge petition is “not going to go anywhere,” King said. His decision not to sign may signal the reluctance of other Republicans needed for the discharge petition.
The same Congressional Republicans who have stated their support for turning the government back on are also wary of going against the party’s leadership in the House. Such a dramatic action to overturn the will of Speaker Boehner could also be seen as a betrayal, one that could see them ostracized in the Republican Party.
The issue of the “clean” bill is at the heart of the debate. A continuing resolution, or CR, is the kind of bill required to restore funding to the federal government. The one House Republicans passed at the end of September was attached to other language defunding the Affordable Care Act, which Democrat President Barack Obama considers his signature legislative achievement. The Democrat controlled Senate rejected that CR, and the House has refused to reactivate the government without some kind of concession. President Obama says the only form of such a bill that he would not veto is one that turns the government back on without any other riders attached, a CR that is, in other words, “clean.”
Forcing a vote currently seems to be the Democrats only option for getting the clean CR desired by a majority of House members to the floor. Once voted on, it would pass in both the House and Senate and receive the President’s signature. It remains to be seen, however, if they can get any Republican signatures for their discharge petition.
Originally, the discharge petition didn’t even seem like an option. A bill must be at least 30 legislative days old before such a petition can be used to force a vote on it, and the current government shutdown is too new. However, House Democrats found a bill filed in March they believe they can alter into a clean CR. That bill is the Government Shutdown Prevention Act, introduced, ironically enough, by another Republican, Representative James Lankford (R-Oklahoma). But the version Democrats would use in the end would be very different, modified into a clean continuing resolution. However, with key Republicans not yet signaling willingness to sign, the discharge petition strategy may be dead in the water.
Written By: Jeremy Forbing