Wonk Wars: Republicans Divided Over Ex-Im Bank

Some conservatives say the bank’s reauthorization is a litmus test for Republicans.

Caption:WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 25: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) (R) listens to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) (L) speak after attending the weekly House Republican conference at the U.S. Capitol March 25, 2014 in Washington, DC. Speaker Boehner spoke on various issues including jobs and the unemployment rate.
National Journal
Billy House
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Billy House
April 9, 2014, 5:45 p.m.

The ques­tion of wheth­er to re­charter the Ex­port-Im­port Bank later this year has di­vided House GOP lead­ers in what is be­com­ing an in­creas­ingly pub­lic dis­agree­ment over Re­pub­lic­an ideals.

Many House con­ser­vat­ives, led by Fin­an­cial Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man Jeb Hensarling, op­pose the bank in its cur­rent form as a type of cor­por­ate wel­fare. The 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 also come out against it.

However, Re­pub­lic­an Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor has been a sup­port­er, work­ing to put to­geth­er a bill in 2012 that raised the bank’s lend­ing lim­it and ex­ten­ded its charter through Sept. 30 of this year. House Demo­crats also back re­char­ter­ing and in­clude it in their pack­age of le­gis­la­tion to cre­ate jobs and strengthen the eco­nomy.

If un­re­solved, the is­sue of the bank’s charter could pit Can­tor against Hensarling — both men are seen as po­ten­tial suc­cessors to Speak­er John Boehner — and raise ques­tions about wheth­er Hensarling’s com­mit­tee will re­tain con­trol of the is­sue.

Al­though the charter does not ex­pire for an­oth­er five months, the is­sue came to the fore­ground this week when sev­er­al prom­in­ent Demo­crats spoke out in fa­vor of re­char­ter­ing the bank, and one well-known con­ser­vat­ive penned an op-ed in op­pos­i­tion.

Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Mike Lee of Utah wrote a piece this week in the Na­tion­al Re­view head­lined “Ex-Im Bank and the GOP’s Cronyism Test,” call­ing 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.”

Her­it­age Ac­tion and the Club for Growth are act­ively call­ing for law­makers to scrap the reau­thor­iz­a­tion. “By re­fus­ing to reau­thor­ize the bank, con­ser­vat­ives can take the lead in the fight against cronyism and cor­por­ate wel­fare. That’s good policy and good polit­ics,” Her­it­age said in a state­ment.

On Wed­nes­day, Minor­ity Whip Steny Hoy­er, who worked with Can­tor on the last reau­thor­iz­a­tion, said, “I have had dis­cus­sions, pre­lim­in­ary dis­cus­sions, with Mr. Can­tor about mov­ing for­ward on the Ex­port-Im­port Bank.”

Stand­ing along­side Hoy­er, Fin­an­cial Ser­vices rank­ing mem­ber Max­ine Wa­ters said she be­lieves there are many Re­pub­lic­ans who sup­port reau­thor­iz­a­tion. (The last reau­thor­iz­a­tion passed the House 330-93, with all op­pos­ing votes cast by Re­pub­lic­ans.) She raised the ques­tion of wheth­er the Fin­an­cial Ser­vices Com­mit­tee would re­tain con­trol of the is­sue.

“If, for some reas­on, the chair­man does not co­oper­ate and par­ti­cip­ate in bring­ing for­ward a reau­thor­iz­a­tion, I do be­lieve that the lead­er­ship would have to really take a look at how to get it done,” Wa­ters said.

In an en­vir­on­ment in which much lip ser­vice is paid to re­spect­ing the “reg­u­lar or­der” com­mit­tee pro­cess, word of the com­ments spread quickly, and promp­ted a fast re­sponse from Can­tor’s of­fice that no dis­cus­sion on the is­sue between Hoy­er and the ma­jor­ity lead­er had taken place.

“The ma­jor­ity lead­er de­fers to the com­mit­tee to re­view the pro­gram and take the le­gis­lat­ive steps that they be­lieve are ap­pro­pri­ate based on their re­view,” said Rory Cooper, a Can­tor spokes­man, in a state­ment. Hoy­er’s of­fice stood by his com­ment, un­der­scor­ing that he had said the dis­cus­sion was “pre­lim­in­ary.”

For his part, Hensarling de­clined to com­ment on the mat­ter. But his op­pos­i­tion to the re­char­ter­ing is well-known.

“I be­lieve there are a num­ber of re­forms that should be had if this pro­gram is go­ing to be reau­thor­ized,” he said in a hear­ing last month. “I for one re­main skep­tic­al that tax­pay­ers ought to be on the hook for this book.”

He also said, “I think it’s im­port­ant that this com­mit­tee works through reg­u­lar or­der on the mat­ter of reau­thor­iz­a­tion.”

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 to Hensarling, as well as to the jur­is­dic­tion of his com­mit­tee, and are watch­ing to see what hap­pens this time around.

“I lean to­ward Jeb’s po­s­i­tion,” said Rep. Scott Gar­rett, a New Jer­sey Re­pub­lic­an and a mem­ber of Fin­an­cial Ser­vices, adding that “I trust this will go through reg­u­lar or­der.”

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