Wages, immigration vote sought

House Democrats are determined to cast an election-year spotlight on Republican opposition to raising the minimum wage and overhauling immigration laws.
AP Wire
Feb 18, 2014

To try to accomplish that in the GOP-controlled House, Democrats are planning to rely on an infrequently used, rarely successful tactic known as a "discharge petition."

It requires the minority party — in this case, Democrats, who are unable to dictate the House agenda — to persuade some two dozen Republicans to defy their leadership, join Democrats and force a vote on setting the federal minimum wage at $10.10 an hour.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said Democrats will push the wage issue when Congress returns from its break Feb. 24. Forcing a vote on a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws could occur in a few months.

Democratic leaders argue that a majority of Americans favor both steps, which are priorities for President Barack Obama, and say the House GOP is the obstacle. Republicans say Democrats are embarking on an approach that they know has little chance of success in an attempt to circumvent the will of the GOP-led House.

The odds are daunting for Democrats in what clearly is political maneuvering ahead of the elections this fall.

Some questions and answers on how it works.

Q: What does a discharge petition do?

A: It allows the minority or opposition party to bypass the House speaker and get a vote.

First, 217 members — one more than half the House's current membership of 432 — have to sign a petition. A motion to consider the wage issue would then be placed on the legislative calendar, but it can't be acted on for at least seven days. Any lawmaker can then call it up but only on the second or fourth Monday of the month. The motion is debated and if the House passes it, then lawmakers would consider and vote on the bill.

Currently there are 232 Republicans, 200 Democrats and three vacancies in the House. All 200 Democrats would have to sign the petition, but Democrats would have a tough time getting 17 Republicans to join them.

Signing a discharge petition would be a breach of loyalty for Republicans, certain to draw the wrath of the caucus, and a rebuke of Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Republicans largely oppose any increase in the minimum wage. They say it's an issue left to the states and that it could slow hiring in a struggling economy.

Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 House Democrat, acknowledged that Democrats are unlikely to sway Republicans. Yet he also provided a preview of one of his party's arguments on this issue.

"I don't think we're ever confident that we're going to get 18 Republicans to sign a discharge petition, but we apparently have 30 or 40 that are known over here," Hoyer said at a news conference this past week at the party's retreat in Cambridge, Md. "Our expectation is if they want to make sure that working people have an incentive to work, they will pay them to do so a wage that does not leave them in poverty."

Q: What about immigration? A number of House Republicans back a comprehensive approach. Would they sign a discharge petition?

A: Highly unlikely. Republicans still are unwilling to break ranks with the party and Boehner, despite the distinctly different political forces on the issue.

Immigration overhaul has the support of an unusual coalition that includes some traditional backers of the GOP. They include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and business groups, religious organizations such as the U.S. Catholic Bishops, evangelicals and labor unions.

A few Republicans have expressed support for a comprehensive bill similar to the Senate-passed measure and have pleaded for the House to act this year. They worry about the political implications in their swing districts back home. Yet it would be a remarkable step for some of the more moderate lawmakers from California and Florida to abandon Boehner.

Boehner has come out with principles on immigration that call for legal status for some of the 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally and has expressed support for a piecemeal approach to the issue. Last week, however, the speaker all but ruled out the House acting on legislation this year, blaming GOP distrust of Obama to enforce any new law.

On the notion of a discharge petition, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said, "This scheme has zero chance of success. A clear majority in the House understands that the massive Senate-passed bill is deeply flawed."

Sen. Chuck Schumer, a major player on the bipartisan Senate measure, recently pushed the idea of a discharge petition, but the New York Democrat is unlikely to sway the nearly two dozen House Republicans necessary to sign on.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., made clear how Democrats will frame the issue for the Republicans who want immigration overhaul.

"Talk is one thing; actually doing something is another. And I'm sure they'll have a chance between now and November to let their constituents know whether they're serious on immigration reform, the comprehensive one, or not," Van Hollen said.

Q: A discharge petition sounds like a tough sell. Has it worked recently?

The discharge petition worked in 1986, forcing a vote on a gun rights bill, and in 2002, ensuring a vote on campaign finance legislation.

The difficulty for a discharge petition in the current political climate was never more evident than last fall in the midst of the 16-day partial government shutdown. Even though several Republicans said they wanted to vote on a spending bill with no strings attached, they rejected the idea that they would join forces with the Democrats.

 

Comments

Lanivan

Think it'll fly? An interesting tidbit: The Republican-led Congress of 2013 was the least productive in US history. It also had the most closed door sessions in US history. In the last 12 months, the House adopted 44 closed rules. These rules were made in secret meetings with limited attendance, where members are sworn to secrecy to not divulge anything said during the closed session under penalty of law. Just for comparison's sake, since 1825 to recent times, closed sessions had been employed only 6 times.

While breaking records for being unproductive, this closed regime nonetheless has pursued a partisan agenda with great enthusiasm while important national priorities such as jobs, the economy, and unemployment get ignored and kicked down the road.

In fact, prior to the 16-day government shut down, the House Republicans secretly and quietly met in a closed door session and altered the parliamentary rules which assured the shut down.

Seeing how it's an election year and all, perhaps Republican House members will start to listen to American voters and get productive helping to strengthen the economy and help those struggling to find jobs. Jason La Brasseur - how about writing a letter to Rep Huizenga, who voted against the unemployment extension, and share with him your experiences in the West Michigan job market?

I'd say there's a better chance of breaking though the pier ice than Congress breaking through the icy barriers they have built between themselves - and the American people.

Former Grandhavenite

I haven't followed Huizenga's votes too closely, but a huge red flag went up when I found out that he'd been elected to Congress and he was from West Michigan. That's never a good combination. If Pete "we-need-term-limits-but-oh-wait-now-I-oppose-them-because-I'm-the-one-being-term-limited" Hoekstra can hang on for 20 years or whatever it was, the bar is set pretty low to begin with. I'd like to think that Huizenga would think about JLB's situation and do more than respond with a form letter. Is Huizenga well regarded by the locals? Where does he fall in terms of being an independent-minded Republican versus a strict party-line loyalist?

To be fair to the local reps at the federal level, Justin Amash has a few libertarian views I'm on board with, although he's also pretty insane in a lot of ways too.

Lanivan

Pete Hoekstra proudly campaigned as being a co-founder of the Tea Party Congressional Caucus. Huizenga was elected with Tea Party support, and essentially votes with the extreme right-wingers.

As a moderate Republican, my beef for the past five years, is how the Republican Party has become less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and more like an ideological authoritarian party. It has become far too cynically insurrectionary for my tastes. And Huizinga always votes in march-step with his party, over country, and for his rich contributors.

They have spent far too much time, energy, and money attempting to obstruct and defile Obama during a post-recessionary period. Far worse, their tactics have shown a hard turn to an absolutist, authoritarian mindset that is frankly hostile to the values of reason, compromise, and integration. Their governing has shown they are far more interested in polarizing and propagandizing than turning the economy around.

In 2009, when the country was reeling from the worst recession in 80 years, on the cusp of a global financial catastrophe, the Republicans announced that their greatest legislative priority was....jobs? The economy? Solving the housing collapse? Financial reform?

No - it was to ensure Obama would be a one-term president. This illustrates how Huizenga and Amash vote. My guess as to how Bill Huizenga would respond to Jason? I can answer based on personal experience - a very pleasant, cordial, hand-signed letter blowing him off with the good 'ole party line.

Tri-cities realist

Are we supposed to outsource our elected officials?

Lanivan

I'm sure if it added to the coffers of their Corporate Contributors, it could be arranged.

Tri-cities realist

An unproductive Congress, now that's progress!

Lanivan

So let me get this straight - you prefer to pay Congress $174,000+/benefits/perks/expense accounts/guaranteed lobbying position so they can do nothing productive but waste even more taxpayer money?

Hey, dude, I want to work for YOU! I've never been able to get away with that cr*p with any job I ever had.......

Tri-cities realist

If they would promise not to interfere anymore with our liberty, the price of their wages and benefits would be a steal. With a few "yea's" and the stroke of a pen, more damage than good is usually accomplished.

LIAMD

You have the stones to even mention struggling to find jobs,economy,unemployment when it's your Supreme Leaders policies with the support of Progressive Democrats and a few Republicans that created the mess were in. Yet you continue to support such failures with you rhetoric while placing blame elsewhere ? It's never the Supreme Leaders or the Democrats fault ? Classic create the mess, cry about it,blame others and then raise your hand to fix it when your supported policies created it ?

Lanivan

I will try to address your concerns, but I doubt it will make much difference to you. By Supreme Leader, I assume you mean Obama. But when you state that Obama has created the mess we're in, I then wonder if you are referring to George W. Bush. After all, it was his starting two unfunded wars that added $7 Trillion to the Federal Debt and which was never included in the annual Federal budget; was paid for with the US credit card (that is, he borrowed $$ from China), all the while cutting taxes which had the effect of reducing revenue big-time. And then he implemented Medicare Part D, which was an extremely expensive reform that ended up costly much more than originally estimated. All of these Bush policies directly attributed to the Great Recession of 2007-09.

So when Obama was elected with a wide margin in 2008, he inherited the following:

A Federal Budget Deficit that was 10% of GDP. After 5 years of Obama, it is at 3% of GDP.

The stock market had crashed to the lowest point in 80 years - around 6,000. After 5 years of Obama, it has broken all records and is around 16,000. In fact, corporate profits are up 178%.

Jobs: Up 3,246,000.

Unemployment: Down to 6.7% from 7.3%

But there are still 10 million long-term unemployed. Democrats want to extend unemployment benefits - some, but not all, Republicans want to stop the extension. Will they compromise? That's my question.

Again, I doubt you will, but I would ask that you give some examples of how Obama's policies have "created the mess we are in". I'd be interested in reading about them.

Vladtheimp

Wow - not a Democrat talking point omitted. I tell ya she's really Jay Carney in drag.

Lanivan

Haha! I think you have a crush on Jay Carney - he seems to be uppermost on your mind these days. He is kinda cute.... So anyway, am I to understand you don't have a problem with this Congress being, #1 - the least productive in US history, and, #2 - having the most closed sessions in US history?

Oh, and another thing - I don't believe you have ever come to Bush's defense when I go through my Litany of Bush/Cheney Sins. So am I to ascertain from your silence that you agree with me on this??

Or is it all - Executive overreach! EO's! Prosecutorial discretion! Expansion of executive power!

Vladtheimp

1. "Least productive Congress" - another desperate Democrat taling point (straight from Huffington Post) to deflect attention from Obama's myriad failures as a President and a leader.

Hint: "Congress" includes the House and the Senate. Although number of bills passed is a meaningless measure, the House has passed 150 bills that are still sitting somewhere in Harry Reid's quagmire. Harry Reid has bottled up the Senate by refusing to allow Republicans to offer amendments, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/1... and by overturning 200+ years of Senate precedent for a partisan advantage.

So, if you are focusing on Harry Reid's inactions in passing legislation as being the cause of the charge of "least productive" I will agree with you - even though many believe limiting the number of bills Congress passes is a bonus for the nation.

On your last question, The Latter!

Former Grandhavenite

Edit: I debated making this post a private journal entry but figured I'd toss it out here just in case anyone's interested in how anybody in modern America could be 'dumb' enough to be a socialist or want to increase the minimum wage. I realize I'm not going to change a lot of minds here but that's not the point. I needed to write this to help myself understand some stuff and to remember where I came from, so by all means ignore it if you want.

I made just above minimum wage for awhile during a rough period after high school but before college, and while I had limited support from family it was extremely challenging to get by and I wouldn't even consider what kind of living I scraped together to be "making ends meet". The shortfall was covered by skimping on food nutrition-wise (and of course taste-wise) while gradually increasing my level of debt and therefore the percentage of income I had to waste on interest payments to service that debt. Of course any type of luxury spending was not in the mix at all. Naturally I didn't have health insurance and didn't even have liability auto insurance for a few short periods, but it was either risk getting busted for that or lose the job as there was no public transportation in the area (That's for lazy people who want handouts. You ever see those fatcats who get to ride the bus to work every day with MY TAX DOLLARS?!). So really I can't even say that I was "making ends meet". I was alive I guess.

I was kicking and paddling as hard as I could but still gradually sinking and it's a hard feeling to describe if you've never been there. One thing a lot of folks don't realize about living truly paycheck to paycheck is that you ALWAYS have to think about it and can't just decide to chill out and worry less about money. Which bills are most essential among the many that are overdue? You learn a lot about the power company's policies on exactly how overdue things can get before the lights go out.

You learn the art of making a minimum payment on your credit card right before it's due and then running out to get your groceries during the day or two window between when they release your available credit and when the billing cycle closes and they wipe out your available with that month's accrued interest. You learn to be a hell of a lot more 'entrepreneurial' just to get through the day than Charles Koch needs to be when deciding which politicians to buy. You start debating which family and friends you'd be more or less ashamed to ask for a loan. You figure out which car repairs will stop the wheels from falling off that day and which ones will merely lead to gradual engine damage over the long term. You give your girlfriend (if she's even still around at that point- Some make a habit of not dating the poors and parents generally discourage it) a card with a $5 giftcard in it for her birthday and try to joke about how easy she is to shop for but really you both just feel awful.

I wish everyone in America would have the pleasure of living like that for awhile and decide for themselves if that's the way people in one of the richest countries on earth with it's stock market at an all-time high should have to live. It's not even about having sympathy, it's about recognizing people as human beings even if they have a skill set that society doesn't value. True, your parents should have thought of all of this before they decided to have a kid without a trust fund, but what's done is done. Sometimes luck of the draw about where you start in life actually DOES have some impact on your circumstances. Not everyone making minimum wage 'earned' it by living an immoral lifestyle or because they didn't work hard enough. Not everyone making minimum wage is just a teenager earning spending money and getting all their food, shelter, etc from their parents for free.

If the minimum wage opponents in Congress could live like that for awhile and still felt the same way in the end, then more power to them. Even if they still voted against raising the minimum wage, I bet we'd hear a lot less griping about how the poor think they're entitled to handouts and how if they would only work harder they too could become makers and not takers. If that in-home health aide making $7/hour would just go to night school and get a Ph D in electrical engineering the 'hardworking' investor/capitalist class wouldn't have yet another leech to support. Maybe you'll give a smile and a nod to the guy mopping the floor at your office and ask how his weekend went. Maybe you won't be furious and fly off the handle when the waitress messes up your order in some small way. If absolutely nothing else comes of the experience, you'll wake up every day for the rest of your life feeling pretty great about how things turned out.

Tri-cities realist

Out of curiosity, did you suspend your intake of cannabis during that period?

Former Grandhavenite

I hadn't yet started smoking at that point. Like I said- spending on luxuries was completely not an option and the stuff ain't free unless you're a pretty girl at a frat party or something. I couldn't afford a six pack of Natty Light, let alone a bag. Although I didn't know it at the time, it's a horrible idea to smoke when you're stressed out or depressed anyway so it's all just as well.

Tri-cities realist

Good to hear you somehow managed to rise above your situation.

And if you don't mind sharing, how did you better your situation? Was it hard work and determination, education, help from friends or family, or govt assistance or something else?

Former Grandhavenite

Really all of the above factors played a role in improving things, coupled with a good bit of luck. Once I got into college and decided to focus on statistics and economics as my fields of study I was able to land an internship on campus, used that to get my foot in the door with a good company after graduation, and then quickly jumped through a series of progressively better paying jobs.

I certainly worked really hard, but if any piece of the puzzle had been missing things wouldn't have worked out as well as they did. Tons of other people work hard in low paying jobs and try to advance but don't have much success. I often wonder about why things turned out as well as they did and don't really have a good answer to that. While I'm not religious I still make an effort to be extremely thankful for all that I have and for all the people who've helped me along the way.

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