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- Democrats have prepared to use an obscure legal strategy to force a vote to raise the debt ceiling.
- Attempting the rarely-successful move, called a discharge petition, requires months of legal prep.
- All 213 Democratic members, plus five Republicans, need to sign the petition to bypass leadership.
It’s a long shot, but House Democrats have been quietly planning for months to create a possible emergency option to force a vote on the debt ceiling in order to prevent the US government from defaulting.
The party’s secret plan, first reported by The New York Times, relies on a convoluted and rarely successful legal maneuver called a discharge petition and will require a handful of Republicans to support the effort to bypass Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy as he delays revealing the GOP counterproposal to the debt crisis, forcing the country closer to default.
The Democratic strategy requires:
- A piece of legislation that has sat in committee for at least 30 days while the House is in session that can be used as the basis of the petition.
- 218 petition signatures — meaning every single Democratic member of the House, as well as five Republicans willing to split with party leadership to force a vote on the stalled bill.
If the petition gets the 218 required votes, it will be brought to the floor for a vote, even if not it is not brought to the floor by Speaker McCarthy, and can then be amended to include the debt ceiling vote.
Unbeknownst to most, the wheels have been in motion for this plan since January 30, when Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, a Democrat from California, introduced a bill called the “Breaking the Gridlock Act” — which was never meant to pass.
Instead, the overly broad bill contains proposals that would protect veterans from the IRS, create a task force supporting seniors raising their grandchildren, change the name of a law regarding Congressional stock trading, and other initiatives, forcing it to be reviewed by 20 committees, where the bill languished, unreviewed, for months.
Now, if Democrats can secure enough signatures to push the discharge petition forward, the “Breaking the Gridlock Act” could serve as the catalyst to force the House to vote on it and address the looming debt ceiling crisis.
“I think in this Congress, you have to be prepared for anything,” Congressman Mark DeSaulnier said in a statement emailed to Insider. “As a former member of the Rules Committee, I worked with procedural rules experts on a vehicle that could be used for any number of urgent issues facing the country – including an assault weapons ban and abortion rights, or in this case the debt limit. It’s important to be strategic, especially in a Congress that has a razor slim majority and takes 15 votes and five days for the party in power to elect its Speaker.”
He added: “Given Treasury Secretary Yellen’s announcement yesterday that Congress may only have until June 1st to raise the debt limit to avoid a catastrophic default and Republicans’ refusal to support a clean debt limit increase, Democrats are keeping all of our options open.”
Representatives for Rep. McCarthy did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.