One of the many advantages to being in the congressional majority leadership is near-total control over the agenda. In practical terms, House leaders can veto every bill, simply by refusing to bring it to the floor for a vote.
Immigration reform had enough votes to pass? Too bad – the House GOP leadership didn’t want a vote on the bill, so it died. Firearm background checks enjoyed the support of 92% of the American public? Oh well – Republican leaders decided it wasn’t worth lawmakers’ time.
In theory, one might assume that bill backed by a majority of the House will pass the chamber. But in the real world, will of the House majority is secondary to the will of the House majority leadership.
There is one notable exception, though. Consider this report from Politico yesterday.
Supporters of the Export-Import Bank have secured enough Republican support to bring an extension of the agency’s charter to the House floor later this month, according to sources involved in the whipping.More than 30 Republicans have signed on to a discharge petition, which would force a vote on reauthorizing the government-backed credit agency. Republicans expect at least a dozen more supporters. The vast majority of Democrats are expected to sign the discharge petition, a rarely invoked procedural maneuver that sidesteps the committee process.
I didn’t include the phrase “discharge petition” at the top of this piece, because I was afraid you’d stop reading, but hear me out because this is interesting.
If a majority of the House wants to pass a bill that the majority leadership refuses to consider, the majority can get together, circumvent chamber leaders, and force a bill onto the floor. The mechanism is called a discharge petition.
If 218 members sign a discharge petition, their legislation heads directly to the floor for a vote. House leaders may not like it, but at that point, their wishes are irrelevant.
If discharge petitions don’t sound familiar, that’s probably because they’re extremely rare. Indeed, every time the idea comes up – as it did last year on immigration reform – the effort nearly always fizzles. Party leaders have made it clear to members that signing a discharge petition is seen as an ugly act of betrayal that the leadership will not appreciate, so the tool is very rarely used.
That said, right about now, the House Republican leadership is, to put it mildly, in a state of transition. For that matter, rumor has it that current GOP leaders actually like the Ex-Im Bank – they’re just afraid to admit it out loud – and won’t especially mind members going around them on this.
And so, if Politico is right, then the Export-Import Bank is on its way back from the dead.
What’s the Export-Import Bank? As we discussed last summer, for the last 81 years, the agency has extended loans to foreign entities so they can more easily buy American products.
For generations, congressional support for the Bank was practically (and occasionally, literally) unanimous, but this year, the Export-Import Bank’s charter expired for the first time, to the consternation of the White House.
Proponents of the agency, from both parties, have looked for ways to restore the Ex-Im Bank, and if the discharge petition has the signatures it needs, they may be on track for success.