Updated 1:36 p.m. | Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio declined to commit to reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank, saying instead Tuesday morning that he is trying find common ground between his members who want to end the bank and those who want to continue funding it.
Boehner said he is looking to tomorrow's Financial Services Committee hearing on the subject, and will rely on Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas, who has said he wants to let the program expire to lay out the way ahead. Boehner's comments come amid revelations that some Ex-Im Bank employees were fired for allegedly accepting bribes .
"I’m looking forward to the chairman outlining how we’re going to deal with this rather controversial subject, especially in light of some of the employees who were let go, who are accused of kickbacks and other schemes to pad their own pockets," Boehner said. Boehner's comments are significant because when the bank was last reauthorized in 2012, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia struck a deal directly with Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md . Cantor is now on his way out of power after he lost his re-election bid in a primary earlier this month, and his successor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, signaled over the weekend that he favors allowing the bank's authorization to expire.
When asked on Fox News Sunday whether he would let the bank's charter expire, McCarthy answered, "Yes, because it's something that the private sector can be able to do."
"One of the biggest problems with government is they go and take hard-earned money so others do things the private sector can do. That's what the Ex-Im Bank does," he added.
Members in favor of reauthorizing the program had speculated that in Cantor's absence, Boehner or McCarthy would be the only ones who could force a bill through against Hensarling's objections. But Boehner said Tuesday that despite his past votes to continue the Ex-Im Bank, he is staying neutral.
"Listen, I’ve got a different job than I had then. My job is to work with our members to get to a place where the members are comfortable. Some people believe that we shouldn’t have it at all, others believe that we should reauthorize it with significant reforms. We’re going to work our way through this," he told reporters.
Leaders have been facing pressure from members and outside groups who believe the program is an example of what they call crony capitalism. But members on the other side of the issue are trying to lobby leaders as well.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said Boehner distancing himself from the bank is an indication the speaker has been driven to the right by tea party forces.
“The Tea Party is moving the Republican Party so far to the right on important issues like the Export-Import Bank, that the business community is now farther from the Republican Party and closer to Democrats. On issue after issue, from Ex-Im to immigration reform and tax extenders, the Republican leadership in the House is choosing the Tea Party over groups like the Chamber of Commerce that used to be the bedrock of the GOP," he said in a statement.
The day after McCarthy threw cold water on the reauthorization, 41 House Republicans signed on to a letter to McCarthy and Boehner calling for passage of an extension before funding expires at the end of September.
Co-signers ran the gamut, from those who are considered more moderate — Charlie Dent, R-Pa.; Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla.; and Peter T. King, R-N.Y., for example — to those who tend vote with the conservative contingent of the House GOP Conference — Tom Rice, R-S.C., and Joe Wilson, R-S.C.
Others who lent their signatures to the memo include staunch Boehner allies, among them Tom Latham of Iowa, Pat Tiberi of Ohio and Tom Cole of Oklahoma and three retiring committee chairmen, Reps. Howard "Buck" McKeon of California, Mike Rogers of Michigan and Doc Hastings of Washington.
The modest but diverse swath of support for the bank's reauthorization could create some uneasiness in the months ahead should leadership choose to take away its financial support.
On Monday, members were already expressing surprise and concern that McCarthy, their newly-elected No. 2, would so quickly reject the premise of reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank, whereas Cantor was at least offering vague assessments of the situation and saying he would continue to defer to Hensarling.
"Obviously he's reversed his position, which came as a surprise," Charles Boustany Jr., R-La., told CQ Roll Call. "It does concern me, and I know it concerns a lot of our small business owners around the country who are looking to grow export opportunities."
Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., also said McCarthy's opposition caught her by surprise, adding that the bank is important to her constituents and district business interests.
"Boeing is in Missouri," she said of the aircraft manufacturer, "and [the bank] doesn't cost taxpayers anything, and it helps American companies be competitive and it actually helps a lot of businesses in my district as well."
A McCarthy aide told CQ Roll Call that his boss had not had a change of heart or any sort of ideological about-face since the last reauthorization.
"In 2012, McCarthy voted for reforms that would begin to wind down the bank which the Administration has blatantly ignored, even though it was required of them by law," the aide said in an email Tuesday morning. "The Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing on this tomorrow, and they will continue discussions on how to move forward."
With Boehner saying in the past he thought it was important to keep the bank funded and operational, Boustany said it was likely the speaker would have to step in, especially as his leadership slate after Aug. 1 will become predominantly unfriendly to reauthorization.
"I do believe that Speaker Boehner drives ultimately what our agenda will be," he said.