House Democrats Have A Hail Mary Strategy To End The Government Shutdown

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Nany Pelosi Chris van Hollen

AP

House Democrats on Friday unveiled a longshot plan aimed at forcing an end to the government shutdown by passing a "clean" continuing resolution that would keep the government funded through Nov. 15 at sequestration levels.

The plan is complicated, but House Democrats said Friday that they will file a "discharge petition" on a bill sponsored by  Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.). That bill has sat languishing since March without any action by the House Appropriations Committee.

Democrats would need to get a majority of representatives (218) to sign the discharge petition and force a vote on the bill — the "Government Shutdown Protection Act." That means that in addition to all 200 Democratic signatures, 18 Republicans would need to sign the petition. 

Here's where things get interesting. Over the past few days, 21 Republican representatives have come out and said they would support a "clean" continuing resolution. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has no plans on his own to bring a clean CR to the floor.

“There is a growing number of Republicans who want the opportunity to work with us to end this crisis. We have seen it in press reports. And I have heard it in my own private conversations with my Republican colleagues,” Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) said at a press conference Friday. “Today, we are offering my Republican friends, and the American people, a way forward.”

Of course, those 21 Republicans saying they support a so-called "clean" CR and actually doing it are two different things. And Republican leaders think it's extremely unlikely that moderate Republicans would buck leadership. 

The disparity was most recently seen Monday — just hours before the government was set to shut down — when moderate Republicans were plotting a "revolt" behind the scenes led by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) to force a vote on a clean CR. But only King and Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) ended up voting for the measure.

"Ah, the old discharge petition move. Zero percent of the time it works every time," quipped Brendan Buck, a Boehner spokesman.

Miller and Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Nita Lowey (R-N.Y.) — the three Democrats who announced the plan Friday — referred the petition to the House Rules Committee. After a week of inaction, they can file the petition and gather signatures. If they get enough signatures, a vote on a "clean" bill to reopen the government could come as early as Oct. 14.

Here's the gist of the bill:

If Congress fails to approve a budget by the end of each fiscal year, the Government Shutdown Prevention Act would ensure that all operations remain running normally without any interruption of services by automatically triggering a continuing resolution (CR) or short-term, stop-gap spending device.

The bill creates an automatic CR for any regular appropriations bill not completed before the end of the fiscal year. After the first 120 days, auto-CR funding would be reduced by one percentage point and would continue to be reduced by that margin every 90 days. 

Democrats don't intend to make Lankford's bill law. They plan to add language into the CR that will be a " complete substitute for that language which will be a clean continuing resolution to open up the government," Miller said.



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