House Democrats move forward with petition to force debt limit vote

By Carl Hulse

WASHINGTON — House Democrats pushed forward Wednesday (17) with a procedural move that could force a vote to increase the debt limit should negotiations between President Joe Biden and Republicans collapse, moving despite signs of progress in the bipartisan talks to advance a long-shot Plan B to avert a default.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-NY, the minority leader, wrote to his colleagues urging them to quickly sign a discharge petition, which can automatically force a House vote on legislation if a majority of 218 members sign it.

Although Jeffries noted there were signs after Tuesday’s (16) White House meeting hosted by Biden that a “real pathway exists to find an acceptable, bipartisan resolution that prevents a default”, he said Democrats must take all possible steps to avert a crisis.

The Treasury Department has projected that it could exceed its legal authority to borrow to pay the government’s debt as early as June 1, leading to a disastrous default.

“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,” Jeffries wrote. He said that Rep. Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania, the senior Democrat on the Budget Committee, would be filing a discharge petition “to provide a vehicle that may be necessary to protect the full faith and credit of the United States.”

“It is imperative that members make every effort to sign the discharge petition today,” Jeffries wrote. If all 213 of their members signed on, Democrats would need at least five Republicans to join them, and it is unlikely they could win those converts unless the situation grew dire.

The strategy faces long odds given the complexity of the manoeuvre and the partisan divide in the debt talks. But even if it falls short, Democrats say the discharge petition keeps pressure on Republican leaders to strike a deal or face a potential revolt among their more politically vulnerable members who could pay a price with voters if they are seen as helping to push the country into default. Democrats also see the petition as a way to demonstrate that their party is doing all it can to prevent an economic debacle.

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. and a leading legislative tactician as chair of the Rules Committee, said Tuesday that he doubted Republicans would cross over and sign on.

“I don’t think we are in any trouble,” Cole said in an interview. “I don’t think anybody wants to be one of about a half a dozen that hands victory over to Biden.”

The Democratic manoeuvre is considered a last resort, and such efforts have rarely worked in the past, given the obstacles put in the way. Even if the backers of the petition were to obtain the required signatures, House rules stipulate that the legislation could be voted on only on specific days.

Aware of the constraints, Democrats quietly took steps earlier this year to make sure they had ample time to execute their plan, introducing an obscure bill that could be used as a vehicle for an eventual debt limit increase so it could be referred to committees in time to run out the 30-day clock that House rules require before a measure can be discharged. This month, they filed a special emergency proposal that cleared the way for them to begin collecting signatures this week.

Democrats see Republicans in swing districts carried by Biden as those most likely to be swayed in the event of a default since they could be most at political risk.

But Cole said that House Republicans from those districts had been the most reliable backers of Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who would oppose a discharge petition since it would essentially take control of the floor out of his hands.

“I don’t think they are likely to crack,” he said.

In his letter, Jeffries noted that former President Donald Trump had encouraged Republicans to allow the nation to default if Republicans cannot extract deep spending cuts from Democrats, a position that could encourage Republicans to hold out in the talks.

“In the next few weeks, at the reckless urging of former President Trump,” he wrote, “we confront the possibility that right-wing extremists will intentionally plunge our country into a default crisis.”

-New York Times



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