Multilayered Context? Rep. Jeb Hensarling to Discuss ‘A Time for Choosing’

An upcoming speech and a fight over the Export-Import Bank could give clues to a coming battle for the House’s top job.

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) listens to testimony by Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen, as she makes remarks before the panel on "Monetary Policy and the State of the Economy", on Capitol Hill, February 11, 2014, in Washington, DC. Yellen, the first female chair of the Federal Reserve Board, is making her first appearance before Congress since being named to replace former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke.   
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Billy House
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Billy House
May 15, 2014, 6:42 a.m.

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.”

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