Steube Forces a Vote in Historic Fashion

Under The Hood

Image courtesy Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, official Facebook page.

A bill from U.S. Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, passed in the House and could soon deliver tax relief to Hurricane Ian survivors. While the legislation’s substance will immediately interest his constituents in Sarasota, Charlotte and Lee counties, it’s the method he employed to bring the measure to the floor impressing policy wonks.

Congressional rules include a procedure known as the discharge petition that allows a bill to bypass committee stops without the blessing of House leadership and go straight to a vote, so long as a majority of U.S. representatives sign on board. This methodology earns from political journalists periodically, usually when the minority caucus champions an issue that polls well but that the majority won’t hear.

For example, Democrats since last June have collected petitions for an assault weapons ban that’s anathema to GOP leadership. They need 218 signatures to force the bill to the floor, but have sat at 206 petitions since November. The hope in a closely divided House had been for enough moderate Republicans to sign on. But the truth is, even if some GOP members in swing districts would vote for gun control, none want to embarrass leadership on an issue that’s anathema to most Republican peers.

That’s why discharge petitions are often threatened but rarely work. The procedure only succeeded twice since a 1993 rule made names of every petitioner public. The first came in 2002, when a bipartisan group of lawmakers favored campaign finance reforms that largely neutered political parties’ control over federal elections. In 2015, House Democrats and a few dozen Republicans forced a vote on reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank over objections of GOP then-Speaker John Boehner. 

Now, history can add a third success, courtesy Steube. Earlier this month, he secured a critical 218th signature backing The Federal Disaster Tax Relief Act. This wasn’t a partisan bill. It allows taxpayers to exclude compensation for losses in a federally declared disasters. 

Steube wanted relief for his constituents impacted in 2022 by Ian, a storm that ultimately charted as the third costliest hurricane on record. But the bill also helps survivors of storms that hit other areas, as well as Americans who endured wildfires and even the environmentally catastrophic train crash in East Palestine. This gave the legislation tremendous regional appeal to lawmakers across the country, regardless of party.

“Thank you to my House colleagues on both ends of the political spectrum for your support. This issue truly transcends political ideology,” Steube said on the House floor. “It is solely about helping our fellow Americans who have been through some of the toughest events anyone can imagine. Their resilience proves the critical nature of this legislation.”

This discharge seemed particularly notable in that it came from a Republican in the majority. Maybe that helped rally support, but Steube did need Democrats to sign on, and the discharge only crossed the finish line after Minority Whip Katherine Clark, of Connecticut, encouraged Democrats to sign onto the measure.

Steube hopes the Senate acts quickly now, and that Biden signs the bill. One must wonder in this case why the ill has trouble reaching the floor through a traditional path. Indeed, it’s the least divisive bill by the numbers of any fast-tracked to floor in this fashion.

It passed on a 382-7 vote, with seven Republicans voting against in. Another 40 lawmakers skilled the vote, including U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, and Byron Donalds, R-Naples (though notably both those lawmakers from Gulf Coast districts did sign the discharge petition forcing the vote in the first place).

Regardless, Steube made history even securing a vote, and maybe proving to members they indeed have more control over the process than they may think. Which, come to think of it, may be exactly what rattles leadership.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor of SRQ MEDIA.

Image courtesy Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, official Facebook page.

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