The Speedy way to break gridlock is just too slow

Many of us fancy ourselves as political strategists who have the wherewithal to break the Congressional gridlock that is keeping much of the federal government shut down. One idea that has been proposed is to use a discharge petition in the House of Representatives. At the Maddow Blog, Steve Benen explains the discharge petition this way:

As a rule, the only bills that reach the House floor for a vote are the ones House leaders allow to reach the floor. But there’s an exception: if 218 members sign a discharge petition, their preferred legislation is brought up for a vote whether the majority party’s leadership likes it or not.

However, Sarah Binder of the Washington Post wrote on Day 2 of the shutdown how difficult the procedure can be:

First, the mechanics. Under the House discharge rule, a majority of the membership (218 lawmakers, even if some seats are vacant) can sign a petition to dislodge a bill or resolution from a House committee. With the requisite number of signatures (made public here), a majority can extract any bill that has been stuck in a committee for more than 30 legislative days. Members can also target special rules that are stuck in the Rules Committee, so long as the rule has been before House Rules for more than seven legislative days and so long as the rule targets a bill stuck at least 30 days in committee. Once 218 members sign on, motions to discharge land on the House discharge calendar. If you are a bill in a hurry for a vote, don’t tread there.  The House considers motions from the discharge calendar on only the second and fourth Mondays of the month.

Time lags built into the discharge rule are bound to frustrate lawmakers if they seek to open a shuttered government. Even if an aspiring lawmaker bones up on the House rule book and today introduces a CR and a discharge motion to dislodge it, the earliest the motion to discharge would make its way onto the discharge calendar after securing 218 signatures would be November. (I am assuming that the House’s calendar and legislative days run roughly in tandem this month). If the motion doesn’t make it onto the calendar until after the second Monday of the month, the bill would be discharged at the earliest in late November. Procedural details make the discharge rule ill-suited for swift enactment of a clean CR.

If it was determined that a discharge petition was the best way to try to break the gridlock, it would still require close to two dozen Republicans to sign, even if all 200 Democrats supported the petition. Parlor room estimates of how many Republicans are wavering from the Tea Party’s rigid position range from a low of two up to a high of 152. Chances are that if the President remains solid, each day will bring a few more Republicans who see it as “game lost” and will support a vote on a clean budget bill.

However, as Binder points out, signing a discharge petition is just the beginning. It must then clear a series of legislative hurdles to come to the floor, perhaps in November.

There is at least one other option to consider. John Boehner is speaker of the entire House, not just the Republicans. The majority is there; it consists of most or all Democrats and the more moderate or “institutional” Republicans. That group could form a coalition on the budget, and subsequent debt limit, votes and allow American to be governed in a somewhat adult fashion. That new working majority in the House would have a more conservative center than the Democrat-controlled Senate.

But imagine how wonderful it would be to resume a process in which each house passes legislation to the liking of a majority of its members and then compromise is worked out in committee. That could happen if Mr. Boehner decided to emulate some to the great historical leaders of the House such as Henry Clay (DR-KY), Joseph Cannon (R-IL), Champ Clark (D-MO), Sam Rayburn (D-TX), and Tip O’Neill (D-MA). Those speakers were bold and actually led. They followed only after the forged a working majority from all members of the House. If John Boehner would do that now, he would break the gridlock and by many be seen as a hero. He might have to sacrifice his Speakership in January, 2015, but he would have ended his term in a fashion in which he would be highly regarded by history. Finally, this approach would pass the all-important giggle test, because both Jon Stewart and John Oliver announced support for it on Day 2 of the shutdown.