Sarah Binder took another look at why discharge petitions are rarely useful, and why that procedure isn't going to solve the current shutdown.
She's certainly correct, and Greg Sargent's post about defeating the "previous question" is part of the reason why: if dissenting Republicans are willing to go against the party on procedural votes, they have a much easier way of doing it than a discharge petition. However, as Dave Weigel makes clear, Republican clean CR supporters aren't close to voting against the party on procedural votes.
(Just as I was almost done with this...Greg now reports that Democrats may work a discharge petition on a "automatic CR" bill some Republican had filed a while ago. It would speed up the process, but it's still not clear why it's a better procedure than using the previous question -- why would Republicans not willing to do the latter sign the former? It seems more like a talking point than real procedural plan).
Greg talks about how dissenting Democrats worked with the Reagan White House in 1981 to use this procedure. But remember: the Democrats involved in that fight were not even remotely similar to the clean CR Republicans today. It's not just the ideological positions involved; today's GOP dissenters are moderate by House Republican standards, but they're all more conservative than any House Democrat, while the Democrats involved in 1981 were far more conservative than many Republicans of the time. It's also the question of party loyalty. Conservative Democrats in 1981 were active, open, opponents of "national" Democrats, and I suspect that many of them eventually became Republicans anyway. Certainly, their leader, then-Democrat Phil Gramm of Texas, would soon resign his House seat, run again as a Republican and win election, and eventually become a Senator and a presidential candidate as a Republican.
More generally, in those weaker-party days, the "conservative coalition" in the House of Republicans and Southern Democrats had long worked together. That had faded by 1981 -- the real peak of the coalition was in the late 1930s through the 1950s -- but it was still possible to revive it. There's nothing remotely close to that today; if Republican moderates betrayed their party on procedural votes, it would be something new and unprecedented for them.
Not that they couldn't do it! But the norms of Congress certainly have been that defecting on substantive votes isn't nearly as big a deal as defecting on procedural votes.
And this fight shows exactly why that is. As usual, there are multiple possible winning coalitions on the House floor -- in this case, there's a GOP-only group that's voted for a number of things, but there's also a mostly-Democrats coalition that supports a clean CR. Indeed: we know there are 217 votes for a CR-plus-defunding, a CR-plus-delaying, a CR-plus-delaying the individual mandate, and reportedly a clean CR; there may well be majorities for a clean CR at various different funding levels, and for a CR with various other add-ons. The whole strength of having the party majority is that the party gets to choose which of those things actually comes up for a vote. Once Members treat procedural votes as if they were substantive votes, then the party is worthless (and, beyond that, you get chaos -- because there's no way to regulate which of the many possible majorities gets votes).
By the way, that's why the Hastert Rule is quite normal and logical: of course the majority party is going to regulate which things get to the House floor, and doing it by majority is perfectly sensible when possible. The real questions are what to do when it isn't possible, not why you would have that "rule" in the first place.
So: the reason why I've harped on the idea that you need plenty of public dissenting Republicans before it puts real pressure on Boehner is precisely because there's little chance that just 17 Republicans would defect on such a huge issue and on a procedural vote. However, the larger the group gets -- and since we're told that the public dissenters are only the tip of the iceberg -- the more the iceberg, as it were, starts to matter. And, at the same time, the pressure on the public dissenters to actually do something about it grows stronger.
However, as of now, the number seems to have stalled short of 25 (we'll see what the weekend does for that). It's no surprise that if that's all that are willing to go public on substance that we're nowhere near having enough to actually betray their party on procedure.
The bottom line is that however it's expressed in a a final vote, this is unlikely to end because 17 or 18 or 21 Republicans work with Democrats, and against the real wishes of the rest of their party. It is possible that a final vote will work out that way, but only if that's what the bulk of the conference wants. And if that happens, the key vote will be almost certainly be on substance, not bucking the party on procedure.