House Republican leaders acknowledged this week that they are holding the economy hostage, demanding massive cuts to funding for federal programs in exchange for not letting the nation default on its debt for the first time in history. But thanks to a rarely used maneuver by House Democrats, if just five Republican representatives buck their leadership, they could potentially thwart that catastrophe.

House rules generally allow the leadership of the majority party to decide what bills come up for a vote on the floor. With Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy insisting that President Joe Biden must agree to slash the federal budget and refusing to make any concessions in order to get a debt ceiling increase vote, Democrats are attempting to use a motion called a discharge petition. If a simple majority of House members sign the petition, they can circumvent leadership and force a floor vote on any bill.

On May 17, Democratic Pennsylvania Rep. Brendan Boyle filed a discharge petition to allow a vote on a debt ceiling increase with no strings attached. As of Wednesday, all 213 House Democrats had signed on. No Republicans have joined so far, but if five do so, it will bring the total to the required 218 signatures to force a vote.

“We just want to let you all know that we have the full Democratic caucus on the discharge petition, which is another sign of unity that we have,” said Minority Whip Katherine Clark at a Wednesday press conference.

“It’s now time for House Republicans to break with the extreme wave of their party and join House Democrats to put an end to the default crisis,” urged Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries. “We only need five House Republicans to do so.”

House rules allow leadership to delay consideration of a bill by several legislative days, but there are ways 218 members could circumvent this by replacing the leaders. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned Congress on Monday that without action to raise or suspend the debt ceiling, a default could come as early as June 1. Economic experts predict a default would send the nation into a recession. Any bill would also have to be approved by the Senate.

While rarely successful, discharge petitions have been successfully used in the past. A notable example was the bipartisan 2002 effort to pass a campaign finance reform law, commonly known as the McCain-Feingold Act, over Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s opposition.

Even if a deal is reached or enough Republicans buck their leadership to prevent a default, the GOP’s gambit may have already done lasting damage to the economy.

On Wednesday, the credit agency Fitch Ratings announced that it had put the United States government’s AAA rating on “Rating Watch Negative,” indicating that a downgrade in the nation’s credit rating is possible. It specifically cited “debt ceiling brinkmanship” as a factor driving the decision.

In 2011, House Republicans used the threat of a debt default to force caps on discretionary spending. Even the threat of a possible default was enough to scare the Standard & Poor’s rating agency into lowering the nation’s long-term debt rating from AAA to AA+.

The uncertainty drove up borrowing costs for the U.S. Treasury by $1.3 billion for that fiscal year, according to a Government Accountability Office analysis.

Even if Republicans do not ultimately allow the government to default, just having this standoff may similarly undermine their stated goal of addressing what they call the nation’s “debt crisis” by making it more expensive to pay interest on the existing national debt.


Original story HERE