ANALYSIS: Will Democrats Use Mechanism to Go Around McCarthy and Prevent a Government Shutdown?

With the U.S. government on the verge of shutting down on Sept. 30, House Democrats could force the passing of a budget via a discharge petition.
ANALYSIS: Will Democrats Use Mechanism to Go Around McCarthy and Prevent a Government Shutdown?
The U.S. Capitol building in Washington on Aug. 18, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
Jackson Richman
Joseph Lord
With the U.S. government on the verge of shutting down on Sept. 30, House Democrats could use a mechanism to go around House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is facing resistance from the hard-line conservative Freedom Caucus.

Democrats who spoke to The Epoch Times didn't rule out using the discharge petition, which allows 218 House members, a simple majority, to force a vote on legislation, given that the GOP controls the lower congressional chamber by only a slim margin.

Reps. Delia Ramirez (D-Ill.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said they would support a discharge petition.

"I think we should look at everything in our toolbox to not have a government shutdown because that will crash the economy [and] hurt the American people," said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), following votes on Sept. 12, said that a member of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee—which assigns members to their various committees and advises conference heads on policy—had brought up during a meeting that day the possibility of using a discharge petition.

Mr. Cartwright said he didn't remember which member made the suggestion.

"There's some question about whether that's proper form," he said. "You may have to go take an extra step and introduce something in the House. But we're looking at that."

The discharge petition possibility "was one of many, many topics" discussed at the meeting, he said.

No Consensus Yet

However, the discussion appeared to not pick up steam as House Democrats have yet to decide whether to use a discharge petition to get through government funding legislation ahead of the Sept. 30 deadline.

"We have not had a discussion about a motion to discharge with respect to anything connected to funding the government," House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said.

"We have a responsibility to fund the government. There was an agreement that was reached that House Republicans negotiated with President Biden," he continued, referring to the debt ceiling deal a few months ago. "So we shouldn't even be in this situation of a possible government shutdown. But that tells you how extreme the MAGA Republicans are in the House right now."

Months ago, all House Democrats signed a discharge petition that would have raised the debt ceiling without conditions. No Republicans signed it.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said that there are limitations to a discharge petition, as it "imperils a lot of the community projects that a lot of communities really need." But she added, "We have to keep every option open in terms of what's possible."

Some Democrats in Favor

Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) remarked that a discharge petition "would be wise."

"I think when there's a whole lot of ... issues that tie us up and we're unable to break a logjam, a discharge petition is the way to go," she said.

"That could be on the table," Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) said.

Rep. Nikema Williams (D-Ga.) also commented: "I think we should make sure that we're doing everything that we can to keep our government open. We're here to do a job. We need to fund our government. And the majority party needs to step up and stop bickering amongst themselves and lead."

Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D-Texas) said it's up to House Democrat leadership, which includes Mr. Jeffries, to decide whether there will be a discharge petition.

"If House Democratic leadership thinks that that's the only option that we have, then we'll deploy it," she said.

Ms. Crockett remarked that a discharge petition could expose vulnerable House Republicans ahead of the 2024 election.

A member of House Democrat leadership, Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said his conference is "aware of a lot of different options," though the goal is to fund the government by the Sept. 30 deadline.

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) said he doesn't know whether it would make any difference to use a discharge petition.

"I'd certainly sign it," he said. "We've got to do whatever we can do. But, you know, we wouldn't get the votes."

Slim Republican Majority

With the departure of Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) on Sept. 15, the GOP can afford to lose only three of its members' votes. Democrats would need only five Republicans to force a vote on any bill.

The GOP is set to get back its four-vote margin in November when Celeste Maloy is expected to win the general election in Utah's heavily Republican 2nd Congressional District, giving Mr. McCarthy slightly more breathing room if the appropriations fight extends into the holidays.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the ranking member of the House Rules Committee that clears bills to go to the House floor, echoed Mr. Cohen. He said there doesn't seem to be anyone on the other side of the aisle willing to join Democrats in getting something done.

He said the buck stops with Mr. McCarthy.

"The responsibility to make this place work is with the speaker of the House. They are the majority party here," Mr. McGovern said.

"Up to this point, he's been unwilling to do it."

But not all Democrats seem to be on board with discharging government funding legislation.

"I am not prepared to advocate that at this point. And I think we ought to sit down and watch the Republicans be unable to agree with each other," Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said. "I don't know that we need to help them along. I think they're doing a pretty good job of messing it up themselves."

Rep. Summer Lee (D-Pa.) said she hasn't "given any thought to that yet."

Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) said the focus right now is to avert a government shutdown. "That's the one thing that we're focused on more than anything else," he said.

And Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) said, "[Republicans'] dysfunction is remarkable and damaging, and they ought to get their act in order so that we can actually govern."

GOP Not Concerned

Mr. McCarthy doesn't seem worried about the possibility of Democrats going around him via the discharge petition mechanism in order to fund the government.

"I think the best way to do this is that we continue the process through, finish our bills, going to conference,” he told The Epoch Times.

The House would go into conference with the Senate to come up with one bill to pass both chambers of Congress.

In comments to The Epoch Times, Mr. McCarthy's fellow Republicans expressed no concern that Democrats could try to use a discharge petition to push forth government funding legislation.

"They could do whatever political game they want to," Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.) said. "I think that there are Republicans here who do not want to see a shutdown that are going to work together to get something across the finish line."

The last time a discharge petition was successful was in 2015, when Congress reauthorized the Export-Import Bank, an institution decried by critics for cronyism.

"I don't believe that we use the discharge petition as much as we should in this institution," Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) said.

When told it would take only a handful of Republicans to join all 212 Democrats, Mr. Foster replied, "That's true of many pieces of worthy legislation that haven't come to a vote in this institution in the last 20 years."

Jackson Richman is a Washington correspondent for The Epoch Times. In addition to Washington politics, he covers the intersection of politics and sports/sports and culture. He previously was a writer at Mediaite and Washington correspondent at Jewish News Syndicate. His writing has also appeared in The Washington Examiner. He is an alum of George Washington University.