Discharge Petition Is Very Bad

FilibusterI was amazed on Friday to see that Rachel Maddow was again pushing the discharge petition as though that is going to solve all of our government shutdown problems. She even showed a rather long clip from Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde, which she claims explains the process really well. Except that it doesn’t. A discharge petition has all kinds of limitations that make it almost useless in this case.

Sarah Binder is a political scientist over at The Monkey Cage, which is unfortunately now part of the Washington Post. On Wednesday, she wrote a really informative article about how discharge petitions work. Two things are critical. First, the bill to be discharged (in this case the clean continuing resolution) must have been stuck in committee for at least 30 days. Second, after the discharge petition is filed, it is put on the discharge calendar, but the House will only vote on them on the second and fourth Mondays of the month. That would put a vote sometime in mid-November.

But some smart people came up with a way to get around the 30 day limit. Greg Sargent reported Friday, “But now House Democrats say they have found a previously filed bill to use as a discharge petition—one that would fund the government at sequester levels.” This bill has been stuck in committee since March of this year, so it’s ready to go. It could get a vote as soon as the 14th of his month. There, are, of course, big problems.

This bill, Government Shutdown Prevention Act, would cause there to be an automatic continuing resolution (CR) for 4 months any time Congress failed to enact a new budget or pass a CR itself. I like this idea very much. And that is very much the problem. It would be hard enough (most likely impossible) to get Republicans to go against their party on a single CR. Given that the Republican Party now govern entirely on shutdown and Debt Ceiling threats, a vote for this bill would be a vote to eliminate half of all the Republican “tools” going forward. In addition, the Senate Republicans would almost certainly filibuster such a bill.

But let’s assume for a moment that all of this worked: the discharge petition worked and the bill got through the Senate and the president signed it. We would be 2 days from hitting the Debt Ceiling. And given that the House Republicans would feel that a particularly dirty trick was played on this, we can be pretty sure that the deadline for that would be missed as well. So a discharge petition would be a terrible thing. Luckily, we don’t have to worry about it.

Afterword

The way I see this all playing out is that the government shutdown will drag on through next week. At the end of the week we will see things loosen up. By Monday, the House will offer something like a repeal of the medical device tax in exchange for the continuing resolution and a Debt Ceiling increase. That isn’t so bad on one level. But it will be another example to the Republicans that they really can use extortion to get what they want. I am seriously thinking about giving up on politics and going back to my essays on communities. This is messed up.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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