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Five Things to Know About Discharge Petitions

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick

The buzzword in Washington right now is “discharge petition.”

A discharge petition is a little-known and rarely used legislative maneuver that is in front of members of the House of Representatives in an effort to force a vote on sending aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan.

Two discharge petitions are currently circulating – one from the House Democratic leadership and another from Bucks County congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01).

Republicans likely won’t sign on to the House Democrats’ petition for the Senate’s $95 billion foreign aid bill, while some Dems say Fitzpatrick’s petition is a non-starter.

As of 3:05 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Fitzpatrick, the co-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, has 14 signatures for his petition, including his own, and no others from the Pennsylvania delegation.

The Democratic leadership’s petition, submitted by James McGovern (D-Mass.), presently has 177 of the required 218 signatures needed, including Reps. Brendan Boyle (PA-02), Dwight Evans (PA-03), Madeleine Dean (PA-04), Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-05),  Chrissy Houlahan (PA-06), Susan Wild (PA-07), Matt Cartwright (PA-08), and Chris Deluzio (PA-17).

Here are five things to know about discharge petitions.

    1. A discharge petition is a way to bring a bill to the floor for consideration without a report from a committee. Under normal rules in the House of Representatives, any bill a member introduces is assigned to a committee for markup and review before it’s allowed to come to the floor for a final vote. But for legislation that’s been sitting in committee for at least 30 days that the House is in session, a discharge petition can be used to force the bill to the floor. The petition “discharges” the committee from further consideration of the bill, giving more power to individual members of the House and taking power away from the leadership (Speaker of the House Mike Johnson) that typically assigns bills to committees and controls the legislative schedule.


    1. A majority of the House must support a discharge petition for it to be successful. At least 218 members of the House must support a discharge petition for it to come to the floor. This makes a discharge petition a difficult maneuver. Members of the minority party who want to bring forth a discharge petition must convince a certain number of majority party members to support the legislation, which is difficult because majority members are often reluctant to buck their own party leadership. Most discharge petitions, therefore, fall short of 218 votes.


    1. Discharge petition rules were changed in 1993 so that members could no longer support petitions in secret. Prior to the 103rd Congress, members could back a discharge petition anonymously – their identities would only be revealed if the measure were successful. Since 1993, however, the identities of all signatories to a discharge petition are disclosed as soon as they sign on. One effect of this is that congressional leaders can identify potential discharge petition signers and put direct pressure on them to oppose the measure, which often leads to discharge petitions falling just short of the majority required to pass.


    1. The last successful discharge petition was filed in 2015. While numerous discharge petitions are filed each Congress, successful ones have become exceptionally rare, with only two eventually becoming law since 1993. The last was in 2015, when the U.S. Export Import Bank’s authorization was due to run out. That year, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee refused to hold a hearing or move reauthorization legislation. So, the bipartisan duo of U.S. Reps. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) and Denny Heck (D-Wash.) resorted to a discharge petition, signed by a majority of House members, to force the legislation to the floor. More than 40 Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the measure.


  1. Democrats will need five Republicans to support their discharge petition. If all 213 Democratic members in the House back the discharge petition, Democrats will need at least five Republicans to join their ranks to force their aid bill to the floor. But most reports suggest that Republicans are unlikely to effectively cede control of the debt ceiling vote to Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.).

One Response

  1. Buck is a disgrace, and old fool. this’s is why the republican party will never win Nov.!! they are the party of stupid!! can ‘t never be a party of unity ??? they only want & think of themselves & as individuals.


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