October 7, 2013

ABC News’ Rick Klein, speaking about John Boehner’s refusal to allow a House vote on a “clean CR,” asked a good question today: “Did Boehner make a strategic error in saying votes aren’t in the House for a clean CR?” Klein noted that this “invites calls to prove it.”

That’s true, but unfortunately, Boehner won’t allow such a vote, precisely because it probably would reveal the votes are there to reopen the government. And so we have to settle for something short of that: If Boehner won’t allow a House vote, then moderate Republicans who claim they want such a vote should be pressed to say whether they will support a discharge petition that would force it.

Remember, House Democrats announced last week that they had found a way of using a previously existing bill funding the government to move a discharge petition, which would force a vote on reopening the government if it garners 218 signatures. At last count, some two dozen House Republicans appeared prepared to vote for a clean CR.

The smart Beltway money will snicker that the discharge petition has no chance of succeeding. Okay, maybe it doesn’t. But that doesn’t mean it can’t provide a focal point that will help clarify exactly where these moderate Republicans actually stand on funding the government, in the sense of whether they are prepared to actually buck their leadership in order to do it. It will also give Democrats a vehicle to use to pressure these Republicans.

In a phone conversation today, Dem Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who is a leader of the discharge effort, said he expects groups allied with the Democratic Party will begin organizing in the districts of those two dozen Republicans, and that this could lead local news outlets to press them for clarification on whether they’ll sign.

“The local press will be asking them whether they will sign this discharge, and if not, why not,” Van Hollen says. “You’re gonna see an effort to get local media to hold them accountable.”

Pressed on whether Dems can really get the 18 or 20 House Republicans they need to sign the discharge petition, Van Hollen said: “If every member who has said they’d vote for a clean CR signs it, then we get to 218. If we can build the pressure, we can get there, but it will require an organized effort.”

“This is an opportunity to get all the folks who have publicly stated they want to vote now to put their signatures where their mouths are,” Van Hollen added. And he said that history showed that Speakers can sometimes find themselves forced to act if the numbers on such a petition are mounting — whether or not they get up to 218.

“A discharge petition is a clear signal a Speaker has lost control of the floor,” he said. “It forces them to take action. You can’t hide from a discharge petition.” However, today, one moderate Republican who has said he wants a vote on a clean CR clarified he would not sign a discharge petition.

Maybe a discharge petition is highly unlikely to succeed. But surely it’s a worthy exercise, anyway, since it will clarify whether moderate Republicans who have been all over the airwaves saying they want a vote on reopening the government actually mean it.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.