May 19, 2024

Bipartisan group of lawmakers sidesteps Johnson to force disaster aid floor vote

Amid internal battles within his own party that have sapped his authority to a considerable degree, House Speaker Mike Johnson has just been the victim of a deft, bipartisan maneuver he likely did not expect.

A group of lawmakers led by Rep. Greg Steube (R-CA) and Mike Thompson (D-CA) has circumvented Johnson's leadership to force a vote on a disaster relief bill via the rarely successful procedure known as a discharge petition, as the New York Times reports.

Discharge petition forces vote

As a press release from Thompson's office explains, a group of 218 legislators joined forces to advance the discharge petition, which requires Johnson to bring the Federal Disaster Tax Relief Act to a floor vote.

The purpose of the measure is to exempt victims of certain types of disasters from the obligation to pay federal income taxes on settlement monies received or on attorney fees included as part of their settlements.

Notably, relief provided for in the bill would be applied retroactively to disaster victims meeting the act's criteria.

Among the types of disasters contemplated for the legislative relief are wildfires, Hurricane Ian, the East Palestine, Ohio derailment disaster, and other disasters receiving appropriate federal designations.

Sign of fractured leadership

The Times suggested that the success of the aforementioned lawmakers in forcing a vote on the relief bill is a strong sign of the loose grip Republicans currently have on their control of the lower chamber.

In the eyes of some, the result has been akin to a coalition government that has afforded too much control to Democrats over the legislative agenda.

There is no denying, however, that the series of actions that forced Johnson's hand in this instance was historic, indeed, with the last successful invocation of a discharge petition having occurred in 2015.

Prior to that, the maneuver had not been used to its desired effect since 2002, but some Republicans in the House now appear ready and willing to mount challenges to leadership, and Democrats are more than willing to play along as they do and garner whatever advantages they can.

It seems that in this instance, Johnson's unwillingness to move the legislation forward was enough for Steube to spearhead the unorthodox step.

“My district got hit by Hurricane Ian in October of 2022, and enough is enough. I keep getting stonewalled by my own leadership,” he added, capturing the exasperation that has pushed some lawmakers into realms of aisle-crossing cooperation they perhaps never thought they would enter.

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