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Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg October 15, 2013

Democrats say U.S. Rep. Steve Daines won't back his own bill to end shutdown

No great insight is necessary to predict that both parties will aim to use the government shutdown to their advantage in the 2014 elections. The political jabbing is already underway in the Montana Senate race to replace Sen. Max Baucus, a Democrat, who won’t run again.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee attacked Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., the state’s only House member and a likely contender for Baucus’ seat.

"Daines is irresponsibly doing everything he can to make sure the reckless Republican government shutdown continues no matter how dire the consequences are for Montana," the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee wrote in a press release. "In fact, Daines is so thoroughly wedded to his partisan political shutdown that he opposes a vote on his own legislation that he proposed just a few months ago."

In this fact-check, we’ll look at whether Daines actually opposed a vote on a bill he introduced.

We contacted the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and spokesman Justin Barasky noted that back in March, Daines cosponsored a bill called the Government Shutdown Prevention Act. The gist of the measure, endorsed by 16 Republicans and no Democrats, is that if the parties couldn’t come to terms, government agencies could stay open, funded at the same level they are today. If four months went by and there was still no deal, agencies would absorb a 1 percent cut, and that would be repeated every three months until a more durable bill passed.

House Democrats are circulating a petition that would force an immediate vote by the full House on the bill. Known as a discharge petition, it would override House leadership and for that reason, it is an unusual move that reflects a breakdown of party control.

Daines will not sign the petition, not that his Democratic colleagues invited him to. They sent letters to 30 Republican representatives, asking them to join the effort, and Daines was not on that list.

The discharge petition is no ordinary parliamentary tactic. A petition of this sort succeeds only when the speaker’s hold on his own party has failed.

A discharge petition with a twist

In the view of the Democrats, Daines has failed to do all he could to put his legislation to a vote. But the real story is more complicated.

If the Democrats got the 218 votes they needed, presumably 200 Democrats and 18 Republicans, the special rule they proposed would lead to an immediate floor vote on an amendment to strip the original language from the bill and replace it with Democratic version that simply funds the government at current levels. The parts about automatic spending decreases would be gone. If that amendment failed, the bill would go back to the House Appropriations Committee and there would be no vote by the full House on the original measure.

So the discharge petition forces a vote on a substitute for Daines' bill; it doesn't force a vote on the original bill text itself.

Alee Lockman, Daines’ communications director, said he won’t sign because what would emerge wouldn’t be his bill.

"The bill my boss cosponsored and the bill that would result through the Democrats’ discharge petition would not be the same," Lockman said.

We contacted the office of another cosponsor of the bill, chair of the House Budget Committee Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. His spokesman said for the same reason, he also had no plans to sign the petition.

Independent analysts agree that Daines would not have the chance to vote on the measure he introduced.

Donald Wolfensberger, an expert on House parliamentary procedure at the Wilson Center in Washington with long ties to the Republican party, affirmed that the Democratic measure "completely replaces the base text."

Sarah Binder, a Brookings Institution fellow and professor of political science at George Washington University, said the Democrats’ petition leaves little room for what Daines had in mind.

"I think we're talking about two different measures, and thus refusing to sign the discharge petition on the resolution does not signal a member's unwillingness to vote for a bill that she or he cosponsored."

By Binder’s count, 407 discharge petitions have been filed since the end of WWII. Only 2 percent were successful. If you include instances when the threat of a petition forced House leaders to charge course, the track record rises but still only to 9 percent.

Researchers Susan Miller and Marvin Overby at the University of Missouri looked at a dozen years of recent congressional activity, and their results tell us that Daines has a lot of company in refusing to sign a discharge petition for a bill he introduced. Miller and Overby found that when the sponsor or cosponsor comes from the party in power, they refuse to sign about 80 percent of the time.

Our ruling

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said Daines opposes a vote on legislation he introduced. Democrats are seeking House members to sign a discharge petition to bring the legislation Daines introduced for a vote, and Daines won’t sign.

However, the Democratic move would take away all the relevant text of the original bill, replace it with new language, leaving in place only the original bill number. Independent experts said that Daines would be voting on a measure that is substantially different from the one he put his name to in March.

We rate the claim False.

Our Sources

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Steve Daines Opposes His Own Legislation, Instead Wants To Prolong Government Shutdown, Oct. 9, 2013

Great Falls Tribune, Daines' bill at center of Democratic efforts to end government shutdown, Oct. 9, 2013

Email interview with Alee Lockman, communications director, Rep. Steve Daines, Oct. 11, 2013

U.S. Congress, Government Shutdown Prevention Act -HR 1164, March 14, 2013

Email interview with William Allison, press secretary, House Budget Committee, Oct. 11, 2013

Email interview with Donald Wolfensberger, senior scholar, Wilson Center, Oct. 11, 2013

Bill text HRES 372

Email interview with Sarah Binder, professor of political science, George Washington University, Oct. 11, 2013

Washington Post, Governing from the monkey cage, discharge rule edition, Oct. 4, 2013

Washington Post, Dis-charge! Historical data and prospects for success, Oct. 7, 2013

Legislative Studies Quarterly, Parties, preferences and petitions:Discharge behavior in the modern house, May 2, 2010

House Budget Committee Democrats, House Members Announce New Path Forward to Open the Government through a Discharge Petition, Oct. 4, 2013

House Budget Committee Democrats, Republican Supporters of a Clean Funding Bill Urged to Support Discharge Petition to Reopen Government, Oct. 9, 2013

Congressional Institute, Discharging their duties, March 7, 2008

Congressional Research Service, The discharge rule in the House: Recent use in historical context, April 17, 2003

New York Times, G.O.P.’s hopes to take Senat are dimming, Oct. 12, 2013

National Review Online, King won’t sign discharge petition, Oct. 6, 2012

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

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Democrats say U.S. Rep. Steve Daines won't back his own bill to end shutdown

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