House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) is urging every member of his caucus to get behind the effort to force a vote on lifting the debt ceiling, arguing that unanimity among the minority Democrats will maximize the pressure on GOP leaders to move the legislation quickly.
Democrats introduced a procedural resolution, known as a discharge petition, at 10 a.m. Wednesday, which would force a vote on a debt limit hike even over the objections of the GOP leaders who control the lower chamber.
Jeffries, in a letter to caucus members Wednesday morning, said he’s hopeful that bipartisan negotiators can reach an agreement that precludes the need for such a strategy. But absent that, he says the discharge petition might be the best chance to avoid an economy-crippling default, and he’s calling on all Democrats to endorse it.
“I am hopeful that a real pathway exists to find an acceptable, bipartisan resolution that prevents a default. However, given the impending June 1 deadline and urgency of the moment, it is important that all legislative options be pursued in the event that no agreement is reached,” Jeffries wrote.
“It is imperative,” he added, “that Members make every effort to sign the discharge petition today.”
It’s unclear if all Democrats are on board.
While a vast majority of the 213-member caucus are likely to sign the petition immediately, a handful of moderate budget hawks are expected to demur, if only to allow bipartisan leaders the space to negotiate a broader debt ceiling agreement that would promote efforts to curb deficit spending.
And even if all Democrats do sign on, they would still need five Republicans to buck Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and join the petition. That’s an unlikely scenario, at least while there are still several weeks remaining before the tentative June 1 default deadline. But Democrats are hoping those dynamics would shift if party leaders are unable to secure a deal, markets get jittery and the threat of default becomes even more real.
“If we get to that point, and the market starts to make indications that it doesn’t have any confidence, then I think that changes things,” Rep. Mark DeSalnier (D-Calif.) said.
“If we’re out of time, and it’ll be very clear when we’re out of time, then that’s potentially when that’s a reality,” echoed Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), a co-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus. “But still you’re going to have to put votes together on both sides to make that happen.”
DeSalnier is the sponsor of the bill that Democrats will use as the vehicle for their debt limit proposal. Because of the obscure rules governing discharge petitions — which require a long ripening period for legislation at the committee level — DeSalnier introduced the bill very quietly in January, meaning it’s already met the waiting-period threshold for being discharge petition-eligible.
Getting a bill to the floor is another matter, requiring another set of arcane waiting periods and calendar requirements. A memo from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the timing complications put the earliest floor activity well beyond the June 1 deadline, making the discharge petition strategy “exceptionally difficult, if not impossible.”
Still, if the discharge petition is not the most practical strategy, Democrats have tapped it to put more pressure on McCarthy and GOP leaders to move quickly on a bipartisan solution.
“The goal is to get 213 [Democrats] as quickly as possible, and then put pressure on them,” Don Beyer (D-Va.) said. “But then also the hope that, maybe, if there’s a breakthrough [in the negotiations] that that won’t be necessary.”
The petition arrives a day after the second meeting between President Biden, McCarthy, Jeffries and the top Senate leaders at the White House, where the sides are racing to negotiate a bipartisan agreement that would lift the government’s borrowing cap and prevent the first default in the country’s history.
While the parties remain far apart on the substance of an agreement, McCarthy won a victory in getting Biden to winnow the number of negotiators down to those in the White House and the Speaker’s office — a move that puts McCarthy in the driver’s seat, from a congressional perspective, in the days and weeks ahead.
“The structure of how we negotiate has improved,” he said.
Aris Folley contributed reporting. Updated at 10:30 a.m.