The House’s passage of legislation to revive the Export-Import Bank followed such an untraditional path that it will be a hard act to follow.
Bank backers seized on a leadership transition in the House and executed deft parliamentary steps to overcome staunch conservative resistance. The credit financing agency’s supporters won’t be able to count on the same extraordinary combination of political circumstances to ease passage when the bank comes up for renewal in four years.
Rep. Stephen Fincher, the Tennessee Republican who led the effort for renewal, began working on the reauthorization and overhaul of the Ex-Im Bank in the last Congress. But Fincher achieved success only thanks to an alliance with Democrats and after Speaker John. A. Boehner unexpectedly announced plans to leave at the end of October.
The measure (HR 579) passed 313-118 on Oct. 27. The bill is expected to move to the president’s desk in coming weeks as the House and Senate work to remove differences in separate highway measures (HR 3763, HR 22). The bank’s last authorization expired in June. Unable to offer new export financing, it has been managing the existing portfolio since.
Conservatives such as Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, the House Financial Services chairman who rallied the opposition, could also find something to like in the loss. The opponents boosted their vote count to 118 from 93 at the previous reauthorization in 2012, a measure of the growing resistance to a bank that used to have broad bipartisan support. Conservatives say the bank exemplifies what they call corporate welfare.
They also know that Rep. Paul D. Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who was not yet speaker during last week’s events, railed against the bill. “We should be exporting democratic capitalism, not crony capitalism,” he said. His opposition could be significant if he’s still in the speaker’s job during future reauthorization votes.
Fincher conceded after the House passage “would have been difficult” without Boehner’s leaving.
Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., described the vote as a “historic” moment. “Democrats and Republicans joined together,” he said. “How much better this Congress would work if we came together on a bipartisan basis.”
The bipartisan effort got underway in late July, when Hoyer approached Fincher and raised the prospect of working together to reauthorize the bank. Fincher’s plan had been bottled up in Financial Services by Hensarling since early in the year. Boehner, who had said he was open to renewing the bank, refused to overrule his chairman and move the bill at the risk of further infuriating his restive right flank.
Fincher’s and Hoyer’s staffs talked over the August recess, weighing procedural options but never settling on one. When Congress returned in September, Hoyer became more outspoken in pressing for renewal and encouraging the business community to aggressively back an agency that provides more than $20 billion in loans and other financing to U.S. exporters. Several large companies began suggesting they would move jobs abroad to nations where foreign credit agencies would finance their exports.
Fincher, meanwhile, met with Boehner’s staff in September to ask them to put a bank extension on a stopgap funding measure to avoid a government shutdown at the end of September. His request went unfulfilled.
The political tides turned on the last Friday in September, when Boehner said he was quitting.
Fincher met directly with Boehner soon after to discuss how to have the bill called up or attached to another measure, but again to no avail.
Fincher’s and Hoyer’s staffs then began to draw up a discharge petition. Hoyer promised to deliver the Democratic caucus if Fincher could find 40 or so Republicans to get the 218 signatures needed to force a floor vote. The last time House members used a discharge petition to force a vote and pass legislation was in 2002.
Under arcane procedural rules, the earliest Fincher and Hoyer could get signatures was Oct. 8.
As that date approached, Fincher, who had by then seen bank opponent Kevin McCarthy’s bid for the speakership go down in flames, grew more confident and was openly predicting dozens of GOP members would sign on. Hoyer whipped for Democratic signers, stationing deputy whips at the House doors to insure no one was missed. By contrast, GOP leadership, in chaos over the speakership, didn’t whip against it.
Boehner then provided crucial but largely unnoticed support. He held House pro-forma sessions for several days during the October recess days, ensuring that Ex-Im Bank backers would have the time needed to get the discharge petition to the floor before he left.
Fincher called up his bill on Oct. 25, getting it passed two days later after one last maneuver by supporters that caught the bank’s opponents off guard. Conservatives had hoped to try to send the bill back to committee and try to weaken it, but that effort was blocked when Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., beat them to it with her own motion to recommit. Republican opponents of the bank lost the chance to offer their own motion.
The House vote for passage included 127 Republican supporters, a majority of the majority. Rank-and-file GOP members, freed from worry about embarrassing Boehner, joined the cause.