House Dems circulate discharge petition to bypass House GOP leadership and force vote on 'clean' debt limit increase

 May 19, 2023

House Democrats are attempting to file what is known as a discharge petition that would bypass House Republican leadership and force a vote on increasing the nation's debt limit without any conditions, Axios reported on Wednesday.

The discharge petition was filed Wednesday by Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA), the ranking member of the Budget Committee, with the clear support of House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), who has urged all 213 Democratic members of the House to sign it.

It is being touted as a sort of emergency contingency plan to ensure that the debt limit is raised before a supposed default deadline of June 1 in case negotiations between House Republicans and the White House break down, but in reality, it is an attempt to avoid an already-passed GOP bill that would increase the debt limit in exchange for spending cuts and other reforms.

A "break-the-glass" emergency option

Reuters reported that Leader Jeffries seemed to express optimism that a negotiated bipartisan deal on the debt limit could still be reached but decided to pursue a discharge petition as a backup option in case the negotiations failed to achieve a workable agreement in time to avoid a potential default on the nation's debt payments and other obligations.

"Emerging from the White House meeting, I am hopeful that a real pathway exists to find an acceptable, bipartisan resolution that prevents a default," the top House Democrat said in reference to a White House meeting on Tuesday. "However, given the impending June 1 deadline and urgency of the moment, it is important that all legislative options be pursued in the event that no agreement is reached."

Another member of the House Democratic leadership team, Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA), likened the discharge petition to a sort of last resort, "break-the-glass" emergency maneuver that may ultimately prove unnecessary.

An end-run around House leadership

According to MarketWatch, a discharge petition is a rare though not unheard of parliamentary maneuver that allows the minority party to do an end-run around the House majority leadership by forcing an issue to the floor for a vote if a simple majority of all House members agree.

That means that 218 members would need to sign the petition, which presents a real problem for Democrats given that they only hold 213 seats in the House, and therefore would need at least five Republicans to cross the aisle and join them in the effort to bypass House leadership.

That would be a difficult task in light of the fact that House Republicans -- bolstered by Senate Republicans -- appear unified in their demands that the debt limit be raised only on the condition that future spending cuts and other reforms be enacted at the same time.

Almost all House Dems have signed discharge petition

Fox News reported that as of Thursday afternoon, Leader Jeffries had succeeded in getting 210 of his fellow House Democrats to sign on to the discharge petition to force a vote on a "clean" bill to increase the debt limit without preconditions.

The three Democrats who had not yet signed the petition included Reps. Mary Peltola of Alaska, Ed Case of Hawaii, and Jared Golden of Maine, and of those three, Peltola has stated her intention to sign the petition but explained that she had been delayed in doing so by the recent death of her mother.

As for the other two, Rep. Case's office declined to respond to a request for comment while Rep. Golden's office pointed to a prior statement that was critical of the idea of using a discharge petition to bypass House leadership.

Senate Dems urge Biden to invoke 14th Amendment

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported that while House Democrats were working on rallying support for the discharge petition to skirt around House Republicans on the debt limit issue, some Senate Democrats are pushing a plan for President Joe Biden to sidestep Congress altogether and take unilateral executive action to raise the debt limit on his own.

That effort involves a dubious and novel theory that the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment, which states that "the validity of the public debt, authorized by law … shall not be questioned," authorizes the president to take executive action to ensure that all debts and obligations are paid in the absence of congressional action in that regard -- a move that is certain to face legal challenges and could cause a constitutional crisis or economic blowback just as bad as a default would cause.

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