House Lawmakers Mull Rare Procedure To Break Debt Ceiling Standoff

Members of both parties in the House are entertaining the idea of using a rarely-utilized “discharge petition” to force a vote on raising the debt ceiling as Democratic leaders refuse to negotiate.

The procedural maneuver by which a measure gets forced out of a committee for a House floor vote is being discussed by Democrats and moderate Republicans as the United States hit its borrowing limit at $31.4 trillion, prompting the Treasury Department to take “extraordinary measures” to prevent a default in the short term.

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) told Semafor the discharge petition is “one of many options” under consideration as he works with Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) on hammering out some sort of a deal. In speaking with CNN, Fitzpatrick stressed that forcing a vote on a clean debt ceiling increase without conditions is an “absolute last option.”

The assistant Democratic leader in the House, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), said members of his party should work with Republicans if they do decide to start a discharge petition. “I believe that what we ought to do as Democrats is join with whatever Republicans that may exist that want to do something about this, so if a Republican puts up a discharge petition, I’ll certainly sign it,” Clyburn told CBS News.

A discharge petition requires that a bill be submitted to a committee for 30 legislative days, have 218 signatures, spend seven legislative days on the calendar, and then finally the speaker has two days to set up a time for a vote upon notice. If the measure is approved, then it moves to the Senate for consideration.

The mechanism has been used sparingly over the years. Judiciary Committee Chairman Emanuel Celler (D-NY) initiated a discharge petition to advance the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was being held up in the Rules Committee. That endeavor failed because the discharge petition did not get enough signatures, however the legislation was ultimately taken up for consideration and passed. More recently, dozens of House Republicans joined with Democrats in supporting a discharge petition to force the lower chamber in 2015 to consider rescuing the Export-Import Bank.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) agreed to seek spending cuts as part of his effort to woo conservative holdouts who held up his quest for the gavel. This week, McCarthy rejected the idea of a debt ceiling increase without conditions, instead pushing to find “a path to get us to a balanced budget and let’s start paying this debt off.”

While McCarthy says he wants to engage in talks, Democratic leaders are resisting negotiations. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday, “We are not going to be negotiating over the debt ceiling,” and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said, “there should be no political brinkmanship with the debt limit.”

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