Debt-ceiling standoff: What is Democrats’ ‘discharge petition’?

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House Democrats on Wednesday were moving ahead with a parliamentary procedure that aims to raise the U.S. debt ceiling, even as President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy sounded upbeat about getting to a deal.

As Democrats launch what’s known as a discharge petition, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York said his party must try “all legislative options” due to the urgency of avoiding default. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said that the U.S. could fail to pay its bills on time as soon as June 1 if Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling. Biden returns from a G-7 meeting in Japan on Sunday and has said he will hold a news conference then to discuss progress on an agreement.

Here are a few things to know about the procedure.

What is a discharge petition?

It’s a means of getting a bill to the House floor for a vote. While that sounds routine, it’s actually rather complicated. A discharge petition lets lawmakers bypass leadership, which is critical in this case, since the House is run by Republicans. Think of it as an end run.

It requires signatures and states a demand — in this case, raising the debt ceiling.

How many signatures does it need?

It needs 218. This is one of the hard parts — if not the hardest part — for Democrats, since Republicans control the House 222-213. That means at least five Republicans would need to join Democrats for the discharge petition to be successful. That’s a tall order, especially as McCarthy has slammed the move, telling Fox Business it was “going nowhere.”

Have discharge petitions been used successfully in the past?

Yes, but rarely. Some examples include renewing the Export-Import Bank in 2015, campaign-finance reform in 2002 and the first U.S. minimum-wage law in 1938.

What happens next?

Even if the House were to pass a bill to raise the debt ceiling, the Senate would have to act as well. And that’s assuming the so-called “X-date” doesn’t come first. That’s the day on which the government can’t meet all its obligations. A former House parliamentarian told the Wall Street Journal that final passage of an increase could come after the earliest projected X-date.

What else is happening on the debt ceiling?

Biden left for the G-7 meeting in Japan on Wednesday. In his absence, representatives including White House budget director Shalanda Young are continuing talks with Rep. Garret Graves, the Louisiana Republican tapped by McCarthy.

Before Biden departed, he said he was confident that the U.S. wouldn’t default. And McCarthy told CNBC, “I think at the end of the day, we do not have a debt default.”

U.S. stocks appeared buoyed by optimism over a deal, with all three major indexes



advancing on Wednesday.


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