CREDIT: AP/Carolyn Kaster
With Republicans now threatening only to pass funding for the government one government program at a time, it doesn’t look like the U.S. will emerge from a shutdown anytime soon. But there may be one trick up the Democrats’ sleeves that could force a vote on a funding bill that doesn’t include any ‘poison pill’ measures — something that could easily pass by the Senate, be signed by the President, and get the government up and running.
So far, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has refused to bring a so-called “clean” bill to the floor. If he did, it would almost definitely pass with bipartisan support from a majority of Democrats and many Republicans. But it turns out that Democrats in the House of Representatives could actually work around Boehner and file something known as a “discharge petition.” That would need 218 signatures and then Democrats could force a vote.
A discharge petition can only be filed after a bill has sat without action 30 legislative days’ time, which has prevented Democrats from using the strategy thus far. But they may have found a way to file one: By using a different budget bill that’s been sitting without action for over 30 days, the Government Shutdown Prevention Act. Because that actual bill is on a very similar topic, they’d be able to add an amendment to make it read like a “clean” bill. They can begin collecting signatures seven legislative days from its October 4 filing.
The signatures could be there. The House is composed of 200 Democrats, who would likely get behind the petition. Then they’d only need to find 17 Republican allies to make it happen — possible, if the 21 House Republicans who claim to favor clean legislation put their words into action.
Discharge petitions have been used before, both by Democrats and Republicans. Earlier this year, the Democrats tried the Republicans’ obstinate opposition to legislation guaranteeing fair pay for women by filing a petition (though it ultimately failed to get enough votes). They’ve also tried to use the maneuver on the Bush tax cuts. On the Republican side, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) filed a discharge petition back in 2010 to try to repeal Obamacare. That effort also failed.
A discharge petition was successfully used in 2002 to pass the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (McCain-Feingold).