Five Facts on Discharge Petitions

Five Facts on Discharge Petitions

In a notable move within the House of Representatives, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick has announced his intention to initiate a discharge petition for the Defending Borders, Defending Democracies Act. This rarely used procedural tactic can force a bill to the floor of the House for a vote, even over the objections of the House Speaker.

Here are Five Facts on discharge petitions.

  1. A discharge petition allows members to bypass committees and House leadership and bring a bill directly to the floor for a vote.

This rule, evolving from a 1910 reform aimed at diminishing the Speaker's control over legislative scheduling, was solidified in its current form in 1931 and set the required signature count in 1935. The discharge process is detailed and involves filing a motion after a bill has languished in committee for at least 30 legislative days. Each petition can apply only to single piece of legislation, and non-germane amendments to the legislation are not allowed under a discharge petition.

2. For a discharge petition to succeed and bring a bill to the floor, it must garner the signatures of at least 218 members of the House, representing a majority.

This threshold can pose a significant challenge, as it can involve require members to cross party lines, potentially against the wishes of party leadership.

3. Since a rule change in 1993, the process for signing a discharge petition has been transparent, with the names of signatories made public immediately.

This shift from previous practices of anonymity was intended to increase accountability but also allows for potential political pressure on members from party leaders. Discharge petitions in the House are signed at the rostrum during session hours, with signatures publicly disclosed daily by the Clerk and weekly in the Congressional Record. Members can retract their signatures until the petition reaches 218 signatures.

4. Upon reaching 218 signatures, a discharge petition is effectively "locked," leading to its entry on the legislative schedule.

It becomes eligible for consideration on a designated "Discharge Day" (the second or fourth Monday of each month), generally after being on the calendar for at least seven legislative days. If the motion to discharge is passed by a majority vote, a motion can then be made for the House to immediately consider the discharged bill. Importantly, the discharge petition process can’t be used again for any substantially similar bill, ensuring this parliamentary tool's use is a singular opportunity for legislative action within a given year-long session of Congress.

5. Successful discharge petitions are rare in the modern legislative process.

Since the rule change in 1993, only a handful have achieved the necessary majority to bring a bill to the floor, with the last successful petition occurring in 2015 concerning the reauthorization of the U.S. Export-Import Bank. This event was notable for the significant number of Republicans who joined Democrats to bypass committee inaction.