Given the unprecedented levels of Republican obstructionism we're facing from the House now, some here seem to have given up hope of getting any decent legislation through. But wait! There may be a way forward. Steve Benen clues us in to a potential fix: the discharge petition.
... there's always a discharge petition. As a rule, the only bills that reach the House floor for a vote are the ones House leaders allow to reach the floor. But there's an exception: if 218 members sign a discharge petition, their preferred legislation is brought up for a vote whether the majority party's leadership likes it or not.Now, Benen was talking about this specifically with regards to the prospects of immigration reform, but why can't it be applied to a whole host of other issues as well? Heck, did you know the original Civil Rights Act of 1964 was originally kept alive via the mere threat of a successful discharge petition?
In terms of specific numbers, there are 201 Democrats in the House caucus. If literally all of them are prepared to support the bipartisan Senate bill, they would need 17 House Republicans -- just 7% of the 231 GOP House members -- to join them on the discharge petition. If, say, 10 conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats from Southern states balked, they would need 27 Republicans to break party ranks.
Just last week, we were told they were as many as 40 House Republicans who consider themselves moderates, unhappy with their party's far-right direction. Is there a chance half of these alleged centrists might sign a discharge petition and get immigration reform done? Sure there is.
More below the fold.
Mother Jones' Kevin Drum responded that it couldn't happen because "it's too logical".
Hey, it worked for the Civil Rights Act! Maybe immigration reform is next.Benen responded to this criticism from Drum.
But I'm not a believer. Here's why: it actually makes sense. If Republicans really do want to pass immigration reform just to get it over and done with, but they want to do it without getting their fingerprints all over it, the discharge petition is easily their best bet. As Steve says, all it requires is 20 or 30 Republicans in safe seats to vote for it, while the entire rest of the caucus gets to continue railing against it while secretly breathing a sigh of relief. That's totally logical.
And that's why it won't happen. Logic is simply not the GOP's strong suit these days, and frankly, neither is Machiavellian maneuvering. The only thing they know how to do is yell and scream and hold votes on endless doomed repetitions of bills designed to demonstrate their ideological purity. A different House and a different party leader might be crafty enough to see the value in a discharge petition, but not this one. They're true believers. They won't secretly agree to leave the defectors alone after the vote, which is the minimum necessary for this to work, nor will John Boehner risk telling them secretly that he won't take away their committee assignments or otherwise retaliate against them. The party leadership just doesn't have this level of craftiness in them.
Which is too bad. It's an elegant idea.
So let's dig in to the various areas of concern.But let's expand this beyond immigration reform. Why not have discharge petitions on basically what the Senate has already been able to pass, for the most part? Someone can introduce a discharge petition for immigration reform based on exactly what the Senate passed with a sizable bipartisan majority. Force Republicans to sign it, or explain why they refused to. Make a big media spectacle out of it.
* GOP leaders will tell their members not to sign the discharge petition. That may be true, but if Boehner and Cantor actually want reform to pass, and I suspect they do, they're unlikely to press members very hard. In fact, just the opposite might happen -- Republican leaders can quietly tell 20 of their members that it's fine with the Speaker's office if they sign the discharge petition and they won't be punished later.
* Members will be afraid to sign the discharge petition fearing intra-party repercussions. It's true that signing a discharge petition would be a fairly bold move, but if you're a moderate in this caucus, your career prospects are limited anyway. Besides, if their colleagues flipped out, these members could go back to their districts and use this as an example of how they're beholden to no one in Washington.
I'm not making a prediction, per se. In other words, I'm not saying immigration reform will pass because there will be a successful discharge petition. Rather, I'm saying immigration reform will die at House GOP hands on its current trajectory and proponents will probably need an alternative strategy. The discharge petition strikes me as the most plausible of the available options.
But why stop there? Force a discharge petition on the Senate version of the farm bill. (Yeah, it's not a progressive bill either, but how good do you expect any bill to be that actually has the votes to pass both chambers of this current Congress?)
You thought guns was a forgotten issue? How about some Democratic member of Congress bring forth legislation mandating universal background checks as a discharge petition? Poll after poll shows that even among Republicans, this idea has wide support. Let's see who's willing and unwilling to put their name to that.
Don't like how the House GOP is now threatening to hold the debt ceiling hostage again? Draft a simple 1-sentence bill that raises the debt ceiling. File it as a discharge petition.
And what about the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court just gutted? Nancy Pelosi has hinted at putting forth a bill and calling it the "John Lewis Voting Rights Act", and have Lewis himself as the floor manager for the bill. Get it done with a discharge petition the second Republican leaders seem to hesitate at getting it done.
(But if you're wondering about ENDA, while it recently picked up its 53rd co-sponsor in the Senate, it's only got 153 co-sponsors in the House, nowhere near the 218 we'd need for a discharge petition.)
Oh, and thanks to none other than then-Rep. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), in 1993 the discharge petition was revised so that signatories to a discharge petition were made public. This can greatly help us pressure recalcitrant members of Congress who don't want to sign on to particular piece of legislation.
Now, because the Rules Committee website has been changed since the GOP took over the House, and they erased the page explaining the discharge petition, I'll refer to Wikipedia:
A discharge petition may only be brought after a measure has sat in committee for at least 30 legislative days without being reported; if the matter is considered as a special rule to the Rules Committee, then the period is seven days instead. Once the requisite number of signatures is reached, the petition is placed on the Discharge Calendar, which is privileged business on the second and fourth Mondays of each month. This layover is waived during the last six days of a session before sine die adjournment. At the end of each session of Congress, any discharge petitions remaining unresolved or lacking the required number of signatures are removed from consideration.All right, so we need actual bills that have been written. That shouldn't be too hard, right? Bring it up in committee, where you can almost guarantee the GOP-controlled committee will do nothing about it for 30 legislative days. Then bring up the discharge petition.
The one thing I'm unclear about, can a discharge petition also be used to bring forth a Constitutional amendment, say, one to overturn the Citizens United decision?
So... whaddaya guys think? Start calling up our Democratic Congressmen to demand they do this as a way to get around the GOP obstructionism?