What is a discharge petition?

August 31st, 2017

Conservatives have been understandably frustrated with Congress’s inability to repeal Obamacare. That frustration continues to grow, as House and Senate leadership have made it apparent that they’d like to move on to other issues.

The House Freedom Caucus is determined not to let them.

Just before Congress left for their summer recess, the House Freedom Caucus (HFC) initiated something called a discharge petition to expedite consideration of an Obamacare repeal bill – the same repeal bill that passed the House and Senate in 2015, before it was vetoed by President Obama.

What, exactly, does this mean?

To understand this, you have to understand what a discharge petition does.

Put simply, a discharge petition is a motion to expedite a piece of legislation from committee to the floor of the House (or Senate).

Let’s back up for a second.

When a bill is introduced, it is not automatically considered. Rather, it is referred to the committee that handles its subject matter, where it goes into a queue of legislation that the committee may or may not act upon.

If the committee chooses to act upon a piece of legislation, that’s called a mark-up. Committee members offer amendments and make changes to the bill, before they all vote to send the bill to the full floor of the House.

At that point, the bill is available for full House consideration (which may or may not happen, depending on what the Speaker of the House wants to do).

A discharge petition circumvents this process.

Once a bill has been introduced and referred to committee for 30 legislative days (legislative days are days in which the House is in session), then House rules allow any member to file a motion to “discharge,” or move, the legislation from committee, to the House floor.

For a discharge petition to be successful, a majority of House members (218 or more) must sign it. Once the discharge petition has been filed, it must layover for 7 legislative days, after which the House can vote on it.

If the motion to discharge is adopted (which takes a majority of House members voting aye), then the House immediately considers the bill itself.

What does all this mean for the House Freedom Caucus, and the Obamacare repeal effort as a whole?

First, the HFC must get the required number of signatures – 218. They must convince 218 of their colleagues that taking another crack at repealing Obamacare is a worthy and compelling effort.

This means that, if the House votes in favor of the discharge petition filed by the Freedom Caucus, the House will immediately start the process of considering the 2015 Obamacare repeal bill. You can see the current list of signers here.

If the HFC is able to do that, then the House will consider their motion, and vote on whether or not they should again consider Obamacare repeal.

If the motion is adopted, then the process begins.

The frustration among conservatives in the lack of action on Obamacare is reflected in the HFC’s effort to take matters into their own hands. A discharge petition is essentially a statement of priority by the members who sign it that they want this bill considered by the House, before all others.

Whether or not the HFC can garner the signatures necessary to start that process remains to be seen. But whether the effort reaches fruition or not, Obamacare remains a policy that this GOP Congress must deal with sooner rather than later.