Really good reporting from Greg Sargent on the House Democrats' new tactic on the minimum wage: discharge petitions.
Just to fill in the basics: If 218 members of the House (or whatever the majority might be, given vacancies) sign on to a discharge petition in support of a bill, then it goes straight (more or less) to the House floor. In theory, at least, this is a tactic that a chamber majority could use to defeat a party majority. That is, if the majority party -- which normally determines which measures come up for a vote -- dislikes a popular bill and buries it, then the discharge procedure can revive it and force a vote, which would presumably win.
As Sargent explains, Democrats are doing this with full knowledge that discharge petitions don't work. That is, there's no chance that enough House Republicans will sign the petition to reach a majority and thereby force the bill to the floor. Even if plenty of House Republicans support raising the minimum wage, and even if they support it enough to vote for it, they're still not going to give control of the floor to Democrats.
So is this just political theater? Sure. But it could be smart political theater. Because discharge petitions exist outside of House floor action, this gives Democrats (and perhaps the press) an excuse to ask Republicans why they aren't supporting the effort. At the very least, it's a way to keep an issue in the news and to make Republican members of the House uncomfortable; it may make perfect sense for them to support increasing the minimum wage and still decline to undermine their party's position, but it's not a position any politician wants to try to explain in public.
The longshot hope from the tactic is that enough House Republicans find it sufficiently uncomfortable that they'll put pressure on Speaker John Boehner and their House colleagues to actually do something about it, such as bring a Republican minimum wage bill to a vote. I suspect that's unlikely. In particular, I doubt the added pressure of the discharge petition would be sufficient to make a difference.
But there's little downside for Democrats in moving ahead with it, and as political theater goes, it's harmless. Just don't be fooled by it; no one ever expects a bunch of Republicans to sign on to a discharge petition on a partisan issue.
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(Jonathan Bernstein covers U.S. politics for Bloomberg View. Heis co-editor of "The Making of the Presidential Candidates2012." Follow him onTwitter at @JBPlainblog.)
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