Discharge petition may let House 'just vote' on ending shutdown


Just vote, says President Barack Obama.

And now, there may be a way to do just that.

Since the government shutdown began last week, Democrats repeatedly have called on Republicans to bring a “clean CR” to the House floor for a vote. (That’s a reference to a continuing resolution that funds the government in the short term but doesn’t have strings attached, such as defunding or otherwise delaying implementation of the Affordable Care Act.)

Republicans have refused. On Sunday, House Speaker John Boehner said there aren’t enough votes to pass a clean continuing resolution. That’s directly contradicted by Obama, and media organizations such as CNN, which contend there are.

There’s a way we can be sure: It’s called a discharge petition, a method under House rules that a bill entombed in a committee can be sprung to the floor for a vote. And Democrats have just the bill in mind, a resolution they’ve amended to reflect Senate-approved budget language that was introduced Oct 4. (The resolution would still incorporate previously approved sequester budget cuts.)

Next up, a discharge petition designed to get that resolution to the floor is scheduled to be filed Friday. Assuming all 200 Democrats and at least 18 Republicans sign on, a vote on the underlying bill could come as early as Monday. The measure would then go to the Senate, where it would be subject to the usual filibuster pitfalls.

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., says it’s not a sure path to success, but it’s an option that must be tried. “It shows we’re using everything we can, every arrow in the quiver,” says Titus. “I don’t know how many [signatures] we can get.”

In Nevada’s delegation, Titus and Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford would sign. Republican Rep. Mark Amodei said on “Ralston Reports with Jon Ralston” that he’d oppose a clean resolution. And Republican Rep. Joe Heck’s spokesman didn’t answer directly when asked last week whether Heck would vote yes.

Titus, however, said she’s confident a clean resolution would pass, if House Republican leaders would allow a vote. “We believe if you brought a bill to the floor it would pass,” she said. “You could do this in one vote and 15 minutes.”

Meanwhile, Gov. Brian Sandoval weighed in on the crisis Tuesday with a starkly worded letter addressed to the entire Nevada congressional delegation. Sandoval praised lawmakers for their “willingness to put partisanship aside when it comes to Nevada.” But the shutdown threatens programs such as child nutrition, food stamps, unemployment insurance and others, he said.

“Those who are struggling may go hungry or be unable to pay their rent or mortgage,” Sandoval wrote. “These services are designed to help those who have fallen on the hardest of times. A disruption of these services will be devastating for some.” The governor added: “I implore each of you to work together to resolve the issues in Washington and to honor the federal commitment to Nevada.”

And while the thrust of Sandoval’s letter had to do with procedure — the governor wanted reassurance that Nevada would be reimbursed for spending state dollars to keep up federal programs in the shutdown — the underlying message was clear: Fix the problem, and do it now.

The politics weren’t lost on the Democrats: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid quickly thanked Sandoval for his letter, and the state Democratic Party put out a missive suggesting congressional Republicans had lost their Republican governor on the shutdown issue.

Both Sandoval and Titus are correct — the shutdown has the potential to harm a lot of vulnerable people, and it could be resolved quickly if Republican leaders would agree to hold a vote without trying to destroy the Affordable Care Act in the process.

All they really need are 15 minutes and a vote.

Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.