‘Discharge’ Tactic Taking On Life Of Its Own

'Discharge' Tactic Taking on Life of Its Own
House Republicans Using Strategy Against Democrats for Bills That Get Stuck in Committee.

By Lisa Zagaroli
The Charlotte Observer (NC)
June 16, 2008

When Rep. Patrick McHenry signed a 'discharge petition' last week, it wasn't just a procedural maneuver intended to shake an energy bill loose from a congressional committee.

The Cherryville Republican was participating in a larger strategy by House Republicans. They're trying to get a more accountable track record of how their Democratic counterparts thwart certain legislation.

It's emerging as a regular tactic by the minority party, which can't control which bills do or don't come up for votes, said Michael Franc, vice president of government relations for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank on Capitol Hill.

'Signing a discharge petition is the act short of a roll call vote that is the most important thing they can do,' Franc said.

It holds Democrats who are on the record as supporting certain issues more accountable for not moving on bills that are stalled in committee. And it also pits them against members of their own leadership who don't support the legislation for various reasons.

'It's a very, very tough thing for a majority of the majority party to do,' Franc says. Democrats who sign the discharge petitions, he says, are 'voting no confidence in the judgment calls of their leadership to not bring 'X' bill to the floor.'

McHenry said he wanted to force an up-or-down vote on an energy bill, sponsored by Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, that he believed would address skyrocketing gas prices by allowing energy exploration in Alaska.

'It is shameful for the Democratic leadership to block a vote on this bill when families and small businesses are getting hammered by record-high gas prices,' he said.

As of Friday, four other N.C. Republicans had also signed on to the petition, which had picked up 139 signatures.

The GOP plans several other discharge efforts on energy bills in coming weeks.

'These bills are more of the same tired 'drill and veto' policies of the Bush administration,' said Drew Hammill, press secretary for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Discharge petitions are rarely successful. Between 1967 and 2002, only 12 measures got the required signatures, according to a 2003 report by the Congressional Research Service.

But an example of how this tactic has ratcheted up pressure on Democrats can be seen with a controversial immigration bill proposed by Rep. Heath Shuler, a Democrat from Waynesville. Shuler's 'SAVE Act' mandates employers to verify workers' legal status with a database called E-Verify.

A discharge petition filed by Rep. Thelma Drake, R-Va., has 189 signatures with the help of 'blue dog' Democrats like Rep. Mike McIntyre of Lumberton. The bill has 153 co-sponsors and the discharge petition has 189 signatures.

Shuler says he has 245 members who have 'called for debate and a vote' on his bill. But he doesn't have the 218 signatures needed to discharge the bill from committee.

As the number of discharge supporters creep up, Pelosi has tried to placate the bill's supporters by scheduling hearings, including one last week, on Shuler's bill. But she has said the nation's immigration problems have to be dealt with more comprehensively than the elements Shuler is trying to tackle.