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Miller Offers Path forward to Re-Open Government

Democrats tap procedural trick to force House CR vote
By: John Bresnahan and Jonathan Allen
October 4, 2013 01:45 PM EDT


House Democrats will use a parliamentary procedure to try to break a logjam over government funding and bring a “clean” continuing resolution to the floor, according to senior Democratic lawmakers and leadership aides.

Reps. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) will attempt to “hijack” an existing Republican bill and file a discharge petition that ripens in just seven legislative days, instead of the normal 30 days.

Under the procedure that Miller and Van Hollen plan to use, they can begin gathering signatures on their discharge petition on Oct. 11, one week from today. If the Democratic pair were successful and can line up 218 supporters for their measure, then they can bring a clean funding resolution to the floor despite opposition to such a move from Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House GOP leaders.

The earliest they could get a floor vote would be Oct. 14.

But that would only occur if Miller and Van can get all 200 House Democrats - the easy part - while enticing another 18 Republicans to sign onto it. That’s the real test for Miller and Van Hollen. If the shutdown is still in place at that point, it would help Democrats to convince wavering moderate Republicans to support the discharge petition.

Yet signing onto such a proposal is seen as an affront to leadership, and Republicans will come under heavy pressure not to do so.

“We’re going to take an existing bill and offer substitute language for that existing bill,” Miller told POLITICO. “We’re going to file a resolution that offers substitute language to that existing bill. In seven days, we will file a discharge petition to discharge that bill from the Rules Committee. That will give us an up-or-down vote with a majority vote on the floor of the House of Representatives to open the government through Nov. 15.”

Miller added: “Our belief is that after numerous discussions with Republicans, there is a sufficient pool of Republicans who have expressed either publicly or privately, however, they want the government open. They don’t like the position they’re in now. This would give them an opportunity to sign a discharge petition and to vote to have majority rule determine whether to open the government.”

When asked about the discharge petition, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Congress needs to pass a clean CR in whatever manner is possible.

“They ought to just act,” he said of the House. “However that comes about is fine with us.”

Discharge petitions, while often talked about, rarely succeed. Members of the majority party know its a direct challenge to the authority of the speaker and party leadership, and to sign onto it is a serious break with their colleagues.

However, at least 20 House Republicans have said publicly that they would vote for a clean CR and end the now four day old government shutdown if one came to the floor. If it appeared that Democrats were going to cross the 218-signature threshold, Boehner would likely move to preempt them in order not to lose control of the floor.

Boehner and other members of the House GOP leadership - under pressure from their tea party inspired conservative wing, have refused to put a clean CR on the floor and have shut down the government by demanding to delay or defund Obamacare.

Back in 2002, Democrats were able to get 218 signatures on a discharge petition on the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill, forcing then Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) to allow the measure to come to the floor despite his opposition to the legislation. The House eventually passed that bill.

Since that time, no discharge petition has ever succeeded.

The discharge maneuver is the next step in a progression for House Democrats, who failed to attract Republicans to motions to recommit aimed at bringing up a clean CR earlier this week. That effort was complicated by the fact that the motions Democrats offered were not germane and thus defeated on parliamentary grounds.

Democrats were also expecting to be rebuffed Friday on a more procedurally sound vote to “defeat the previous question” — the most real test to date of breakaway Republicans’ interest in actually voting for a clean CR.