image description

Discharge Petition

Definition: A petition used in the House of Representatives that starts a process to force a bill out of committee and to the House floor for a vote. A successful petition requires the signatures of 218 members, a majority of the House.

Used in a sentence: “Lacking any control of the House schedule, Democrats have tried twice unsuccessfully in the past six months to use a discharge petition to force a vote on legislation they support. A discharge petition is a procedural tactic that allows an absolute majority of the House of Representatives (218 lawmakers) to force a floor vote on a bill, even if leaders who control the House floor oppose the measure. Successful use of discharge petitions conceivably could help the minority party hijack the majority party's legislative agenda.” By Ed O'Keefe March 26, The Washington Post.

Explanation: The House of Representative is a “majority rules” chamber. The rules of the House of Representatives are written in a way that allows the majority party to have a lot of control over which bills are considered and how they are considered. Basically, if the majority party leadership doesn’t want a bill considered, in all likelihood, it will not be. One of the few mechanisms available to usurp House leadership control is the discharge petition, in which 218 members sign a petition to take a bill out of committee and place it on the House floor for consideration. With 218 signatures needed, the minority party, which by definition has fewer than 218 members, must get some members of the majority party to sign the petition. This is a very difficult hurdle; as such, discharge petitions are almost never successful and used primarily as a political tactic.