Amid Confusion, House Democrats Stick to Discharge Petition

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. Jacqueline Martin/AP File Photo

With just 48 hours remaining before the Treasury Department’s designated deadline for raising the debt ceiling, House lawmakers on Tuesday continued to display a yawning gap between the two parties, with Republicans preparing a counter-offer to the emerging bipartisan-brokered Senate budget deal, and House Democrats persisting in their procedural tactic of deploying a discharge petition.

“With infighting in the GOP and no certainty on a solution, discharge is the most viable option to move to swiftly reopen government,” a House Democratic leadership spokeswoman told Government Executive.

As of Monday, Democrats had amassed 196 signatures of the 218 needed on a complex petition to force from committee a six-month-old Republican bill to avoid a government shutdown, to which they would attach the Senate-passed “clean continuing resolution” that could be signed by President Obama and reopen the government.

As 14 Democrats on Saturday -- the first day allowed under the discharge rules -- took to the House floor and requested a vote on the Senate-passed resolution, Republican leaders repeatedly blocked the vote citing leadership prerogative. Republicans angered Democrats with a last-minute rule change that preserves the power to block a vote on the Senate-passed bill.

“This shutdown is hurting the American people and our economy,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. “This petition to open the government gives members of both parties an opportunity to have their voice heard and represents the only viable path to open the government as long as the speaker insists on keeping the government closed. I invite every member of Congress, especially those who have publicly stated they want the government to reopen, to sign this petition today.”

House Democrats invited signatures from the estimated 30 Republicans who have told reporters they might back an immediate vote on the Senate-passed measure. They cited the Congressional Research Service’s seven examples of discharge petitions that have succeeded over the past 30 years.

On Tuesday, as the Senate majority and minority leaders honed in on a deal to both open the government and raise the debt ceiling into next year, House Republicans emerged from a conference meeting preparing to offer a package with more demands.

According to press reports, they include a two-year delay of the Affordable Care Act’s medical device tax; a new requirement that the Obama administration verify the income of Americans receiving tax subsidies through the health care law; a requirement that lawmakers and executive branch officials use the law’s health insurance exchanges; and restrictions on Treasury’s ability to take extraordinary steps to avoid debt ceiling default.

In a Tuesday response, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., ranking member of the House Budget Committee, said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Yet here we are, two days before we risk default on the full faith and credit of the United States of America, and House Republicans want to roll the dice in an effort to undermine the Affordable Care Act. The GOP’s willingness to risk the entire global economy to enact their right-wing agenda isn’t just irresponsible, it is tantamount to default.”

Van Hollen also protested a Republican leadership resolution passed on Oct. 1 that altered the chamber’s standing rules that allow any member to bring a resolution to the floor, restricting that right solely to Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., or his designee.

House Republicans appear divided on next steps for Tuesday and Wednesday and continued to criticize Senate Democrats and President Obama for the stalemate. “This has gone on long enough,” Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., wrote in an op-ed on Monday. “House Republicans are willing to meet the president halfway, but the president must also move toward us and find common ground. The future of our country depends on his leadership, and this is his opportunity to show he can rise to the occasion.”

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