Conservative activists have been pushing top Republicans for months to use their power to kill an 80-year-old federal lending agency that they say is a symbol of corporate welfare.
The GOP leadership's response: Not now.
The agency in question is the Export-Import Bank, which helps companies sell their goods overseas. While it has long been supported by establishment interests in both parties, conservatives have argued it's a form of crony capitalism that subsidizes companies that don't need federal help, like that well-known Mom-and-Pop shop, Boeing.
But Republican leaders have been reluctant to wage the fight so close to the midterm elections, and they snubbed conservatives in the way they hate most – by tucking a nine-month reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank into a spending bill that Congress is likely to pass in the next week. The bank's charter expires on Sept. 30.
A leading advocacy group on the right, Heritage Action, had warned the House GOP against exactly that move in a missive earlier this week. Its president, Michael Needham, made his displeasure with their decision clear in a statement Wednesday, which called for the passage of a "clean" stopgap spending bill, known as a continuing resolution, without add-ons like the Ex-Im Bank.
Republicans can end the drama by passing a clean [bill] and leaving it to President Obama to defend taxpayer handouts to Russian oligarchs and Chinese airlines. No one is talking about rejecting a clean funding bill except congressional Democrats and the K Street lobbyists being paid to save Ex-Im’s corporate welfare.”
But unlike in previous intra-party fights, the conservative activists probably don't have the power to take down the bill, which could result in a government shutdown.
House Democrats are likely to support the measure, meaning that the protest votes of a few dozen Republicans won't matter.
But the result is not what supporters of the bank wanted, either.
The nine-month extension is far from permanent, and it's long enough to give the bank's leading opponent in Congress, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.), time to rally more Republicans in support of ending it entirely.
As a former top bank official told The Hill on Tuesday, a mid-range extension could be "the death knell" for the bank because it separates it from the must-pass spending bill, which will go only until December.
This is the Tea Party’s alternative to killing it now strategy: Put it on life support into 2015 then kill it altogether.”
The spending bill, which was unveiled Tuesday, could clear the House as soon as Thursday and likely will be taken up by the Senate soon after.