Could there be a freeze on Christmas Eve? That is, a House vote to freeze tax rates?
Democrats filed a discharge petition on Tuesday in an effort to force a House floor vote on a bill already passed in the Senate that would extend the George W. Bush-era tax cuts for middle-income families.
Trouble is, a technicality in the House rules governing such discharge motions would prevent the measure from being considered before Dec. 24 at the earliest — even in the unlikely event a majority of House members (meaning some Republicans, too) join in supporting it.
At issue is one of the central points of contention in ongoing fiscal-cliff negotiations. The Democratic-controlled Senate passed its bill in July to extend the Bush-era tax cuts — set to expire on Jan. 1 — for those families earning $250,000 a year and less. But their plan would let taxes rise on income above $250,000. House Republicans have passed a bill that would freeze the current rates for all earners —including those with income that rises above that $250,000-per-year threshold — and have refused to take up the Senate bill.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters Tuesday that the notion of the House being in session on Christmas Eve and voting to prevent tax rates from increasing on Jan. 1 should not be considered far-fetched.
“I can remember being here (at the Capitol) on the 23rd of December. And I think I can remember being here on Christmas Eve,” he said.
He added, “Americans expect the Congress to work. Americans expect us to come to agreement” on resolving the looming fiscal-cliff crisis, including the expiring tax cuts.
Tuesday’s filing in the House of the Democrats’ discharge petition — officially by Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota — means the measure is now open for signatures from lawmakers. It will advance if a majority of House members sign it. There are currently 433 House members, meaning 217 would have to sign on. There are 241 Republicans and 192 Democrats in the chamber.
But from there, the process described in House rules is technical. That process holds that if a majority of members do sign the petition, it is then placed on the Calendar of Motions to Discharge Committees “and becomes eligible for consideration on the second or fourth Monday of the month after a seven legislative day layover (except during the last six days of any session when the layover is waived).”
Translated, that means Dec. 24 for this discharge petition is the earliest it could ever be considered.
But if the motion to discharge a bill is then passed, a motion could be made that the House then immediately consider the bill itself. If a motion to discharge a rule is adopted, the House can turn immediately to consideration of the rule for the measure.
Hoyer said he knows that most Democrats are planning to sign the petitions. He said he hopes a number of Republicans “will reflect” and sign it as well, noting that Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., is among Republicans who have indicated openness to working with Democrats in passing the middle-class tax freeze now.