House Democrats’ Plan to End the Shutdown Is a Maze

Oct 4, 2013 7:13pm

WASHINGTON, D.C. — House Democrats said today that they would attempt to force a vote to end the ongoing government shutdown with a series of procedural maneuvers dubbed a “discharge petition.”

The plan, started by Reps. Chris van Hollen, D-Md., and George Miller, D-Calif., would fund the government in its entirety through mid-November without defunding President Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act. The adoption of this so-called “clean” continuing resolution has been the main point of friction for their Republican counterparts, who have refused to allow such a bill to come to the floor for a simple majority vote.

RELATED: Angry Boehner Tells White House Shutdown Isn’t a ‘Damn Game’

Here is how it would work:

Democrats introduced what they’re calling the “Open the Government” resolution, which was immediately bounced to the Rules Committee. The resolution is actually a germane GOP-sponsored bill that was shelved in spring but, using a procedural trick, Democrats stripped its language and replaced it with their own clean version.

Like all committees in that chamber, House Rules has a majority of Republicans and will likely table the newly scripted resolution, where it would normally die. But after a minimum seven days of inaction, Democrats would circulate a petition in Congress to bring back the resolution from committee for an immediate general vote.

Supporters of the resolution would need to gather 218 signatures – half the House of Representatives – for the petition to succeed. It would then go to the floor for a vote and, Democrats hope, pass. The entire process would take over a week to go through, ending Oct. 14 at the earliest.

If that sounds to you like a maze, you’re not alone. But it is one of the few legislative options for the minority Democrats to pursue outside of caving to GOP demands. The party hopes enough moderate Republicans exist in the House to cross over and make it work.

“We are announcing something good today,” Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., said at a news conference with his party’s leadership today. “We are about to rescue the Republicans, who have gotten themselves in the unhappy position of the dog that caught the car.”

RELATED: A Small, Growing GOP Faction Bucks Shutdown Strategy

Regardless, the future of this scheme is anything but clear. Success would require at least 18 Republicans to break with their party and, while ABC News has counted 20 such members who have publicly mentioned they would support a clean CR, statements of support do not equate to signatures. It’s a concern minority whip Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., acknowledged to reporters at the press conference.

“When you hear people talking about, ‘Oh, I want to open the government,’ you look at these 180 votes that voted to open the government and the 219 votes right now who are voting to keep the government shut down. You’re right,” he told the media. “Don’t listen to the words. Watch the actions.”

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner has already dismissed the notion.

“Ah, the old discharge petition move,” Brendan Buck wrote on Twitter. “Zero percent of the time it works every time.”

Meanwhile, Republicans have stuck to their week-long strategy of attempting to fund individual government agencies through smaller, piece-by-piece bits of legislation. For example a House vote to fund FEMA passed 247-164 Friday afternoon, but the White House has sworn to veto that bill and all others passed by the lower chamber in recent days – save one to refund furloughed federal workers of lost wages.

Republican leaders will introduce that to floor Saturday.

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