House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, a conservative darling mentioned as a potential rival to Eric Cantor as a candidate to succeed John Boehner as speaker of the House, is to deliver a speech next Tuesday at the Heritage Foundation with the provocative title, "A Time for Choosing."
An announcement says Hensarling will issue "a call to action for conservatives to create an enduring conservative governing majority" that embraces true free enterprise rather than "pro-business" Washington special interests." The subtitle of the speech is "The Main Street Economy vs. the Washington Crony Economy."
The speech comes against the backdrop of public disagreements among congressional Republicans over whether to back the rechartering of the little-known Export-Import Bank later this year.
But the speech's timing also plays into the potentially larger context of rumblings that Boehner may be leaving his top House Republican post soon and that Cantor — the current No. 2 Republican as majority leader — could face some competition for the top GOP post if that happens.
Boehner has expressed no intention of leaving his job anytime soon, but such speculation persists. And with both Virginia's Cantor and Texas's Hensarling now talked about as potential successors, any skirmishes between the two raise questions about whether those battles are part of a larger, longer-term scenario.
The issue of the bank's charter could be looming as another battle, and Hensarling is preparing to lay out exactly where he stands on Tuesday, to a decidedly friendly audience.
The Export-Import Bank makes taxpayer-backed loans to help overseas entities buy U.S. products, authorizing roughly $27 billion in fiscal 2013 to back about $37 billion in export sales. Conservative groups such as Heritage Action and the Club for Growth have come out against renewing its charter, which expires on Sept. 30.
But there appear to be at least two camps emerging among congressional Republicans about what to do.
Hensarling, whose chairs the committee with jurisdiction over the matter, is part of the get-rid-of-the-bank camp.
Republican Se. Mike Lee publicly laid out this position in a National Review piece he wrote. Headlined "Ex-Im Bank and the GOP's Cronyism Test," Lee called the issue a key question for congressional Republicans.
"Whether the beneficiaries of particular Ex-Im Bank loan guarantees are respected, successful companies like Boeing or crony basket cases like Solyndra is irrelevant. Twisting policy to benefit any business at the expense of others is unfair and anti-growth," he wrote. "Whether congressional Republicans say so — and do something about it — during the coming Ex-Im Bank debate will tell us a lot about what, and who, the party really stands for in 2014 and beyond."
Hensarling himself said at a congressional hearing earlier this year that he believes "there are a number of reforms that should be had if this program is going to be reauthorized," but that he "remain[s] skeptical that taxpayers ought to be on the hook for this book."
Against this backdrop, however, has come a push from business interests and other groups to renew the bank's charter. And there is institutional knowledge that Cantor has been a supporter, working with Democrats to put together a bill in 2012 that raised the bank's lending limit and extended its charter through this year.
House Democratic leaders continue to back rechartering and have included it in their package of legislation to create jobs and strengthen the economy.
But this year, Cantor has so far been publicly careful on the issue. His office has said he would defer to Hensarling's committee "to review the program and take the legislative steps that they believe are appropriate based on their review." But some conservatives say Cantor is under intense pressure to find some compromise, possibly to extend the charter under a caveat that doing so will come along with significant reforms.
One idea that has been quietly making the rounds is that Republicans could embrace "wind-down" language in any rechartering, calling for the eventual scrapping of the Ex-Im under some future timetable. But conservatives are wary of such a move, suggesting that such language could itself be scrapped legislatively at some later time.
Whether Hensarling or Cantor will have greatest control over the outcome remains to be seen. Sensitivities on the issue may be heightened after a clash last month in which Cantor bypassed the Financial Services Committee — and previous GOP pledges to stick to regular order — to work out passage of a flood-insurance reform bill with Democrats, which Hensarling opposed.
Some Republicans saw that as a public slap by Cantor of Hensarling, as well as to the jurisdiction of his committee, and perhaps an opening salvo in a battle for a future top spot in the House GOP Conference.
Hensarling's speech to Heritage on Tuesday is sure to add to the crescendoing intrigue.
The Heritage announcement of the event says, "The time has come for conservatives to choose between defending America's free-enterprise Main Street economy that is built on competition, fairness, and merit or the Washington crony economy of political influence, Beltway insiders, and special privileges."