The House took steps Monday night to reopen the Export-Import Bank, making history by successfully employing a quirky procedural gambit for the first time in decades.
Sixty-two Republicans bucked their leadership to join with every House Democrat on a "motion to discharge" petition to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank, for which the charter expired at the end of June. The 246-177 vote sets up subsequent votes on Tuesday aimed at reviving the federal agency that finances the sale of goods overseas, and which many conservatives deride as "corporate cronyism."
Speaker John A. Boehner did not actively participate in the bipartisan push to reopen the Ex-Im Bank using the discharge petition maneuver, which allows rank-and-file members to bypass leadership in forcing a House floor vote on any bill, within a certain time frame, provided there are 218 signatures.
However, the Ohio Republican is scrambling to "clean the barn" of politically perilous legislative business before he resigns at the end of the week, in part to make things easier on his likely successor, Ways and Means Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis. Serving as speaker during votes to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank charter, which Ryan opposes, is one item on the lengthy list that includes a budget deal, an agreement to raise the debt ceiling and an extension of funding for surface transportation and infrastructure initiatives.
Boehner, who in the past has strongly hinted he supports reauthorizing the Ex-Im Bank, has been hamstrung since June by colleagues who oppose it — such as Ryan, but also Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas.
Democrats attempted to take matters into their own hands earlier this year by launching a discharge petition drive of their own, but they fell well short of the necessary 218 votes. Though there were enough Republicans who wanted to reopen the Ex-Im Bank then, as there are now, GOP lawmakers wouldn't risk the appearance of bucking their leadership by signing onto a procedural gambit spearheaded by members of the minority party.
When Boehner announced his plans to resign at the end of October, it provided some momentum to Republicans whose districts' economies rely on the Ex-Im Bank. Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., who was already in close discussions with House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., about how to reopen the agency on a bipartisan basis, took the lead on filing a discharge petition.
Hoyer, along with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said from the beginning they would hold their members from signing onto the petition until Fincher shored up the necessary signatures on his side of the aisle to get to 218 votes, when combined with Democrats.
Fincher and his Republican colleagues pulled through; enough Democrats signed on quickly thereafter.