Republicans have been skeptical any bill winding down the Export-Import Bank can pass the House Financial Services Committee, so they are looking at contingency plans. And this time, GOP leaders hope to work with Jeb Hensarling, not around him.
Hensarling, the Financial Services chairman, told committee Republicans at a private meeting Friday morning that GOP leaders assured him that they will not go over his head to reauthorize the bank, as they have done before on this and other hot-button issues such as flood insurance. The behind-the-scenes comments come as he said publicly that it is "certainly possible" leadership could sidestep him.
Hensarling, who wants to let the bank's charter expire at the end of June, laid out several scenarios in which the House could tackle the issue. Sources said the most likely path emerging is that the Senate would tack a reauthorization onto an unrelated, must-pass bill. Hensarling said in that case, leaders have promised him the House would fully debate the issue on the floor, giving him a chance to make the case for ending the lending institution, which underwrites sales of U.S. exports to global buyers.
Bypassing the committee may also be good for Hensarling, sources noted. Committee Democrats and a few Ex-Im-friendly Republicans, such as Reps. Stephen Fincher and Steve Stivers, could band together to offer and pass a full reauthorization over Hensarling's head, whereas on the House floor the debate could be limited by the Rules Committee.
Hensarling spokesman David Popp said that the chairman has met with more than 100 members of the House and Senate to discuss the matter, which has become a cause célÃ¨bre on the right, where it is viewed as an example of crony capitalism.
"Chairman Hensarling has publicly said before that a majority of Republicans on his committee oppose reauthorizing Ex-Im and that hasn't changed," Popp said. "They believe it's unfair to take hardworking taxpayers' dollars and use them to subsidize foreign countries and foreign corporations that agree to buy products from big U.S. corporations based on their political connections."
Speaker John Boehner has expressed some level of anxiety about letting the Senate jam the House with a reauthorization. Boehner, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and Majority Whip Steve Scalise have said they would support ending the bank if Hensarling can find consensus.
"Listen, I support any plan that the chairman can get through his committee," Boehner told reporters late last month. "Whether it would reform the bank, wind it down. But there are thousands of jobs on the line that would disappear pretty quickly if the Ex-Im Bank were to disappear. So I told the chairman he needs to come up with a plan because the risk is, if he does nothing, the Senate is likely to act. And then what?"
Hensarling, however, does not seem to be able to find a majority on the committee to wind down the bank and is unwilling to let the committee pass a straight reauthorization. So the answer to Boehner's "then what?" is increasingly looking like a debate on Ex-Im reauthorization amid another issue after the Senate passes it, source said.
The problem with that is it's not clear what vehicle the Senate would use for the reauthorization. A few hard deadlines are coming up, such as an NSA reauthorization and highway funding, but sources said neither seem like a natural target for the bill. And if any must-pass bill comes to the House with scant time to spare before its deadline, leadership's pledge to allow floor debate on Ex-Im might crumble in the face of the deadline, one source worried.
Meanwhile, Democrats are holding firm on a full reauthorization. Financial Services ranking member Maxine Waters said in an interview Friday that a reauthorization could pass the committee and on the House floor.
"This program is significant enough and enough people are benefitting from it that we are going to be able to get a reauthorization of Ex-Im despite the opposition that's being led by Mr. Hensarling," she said. "I just think there's enough people on the other side of the aisle—and we have everybody on our side, we have 100 percent support—that will see to it that we get reauthorization of Ex-Im."
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Daniel Newhauser is a staff correspondent for National Journal, where he primarily covers the House of Representatives. He was formerly a House leadership reporter for Roll Call, where he started as an intern in 2010 and quickly earned a slot as a beat reporter.
A native of San Antonio, Texas, Newhauser traveled further West to study journalism at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and write for newspapers including the East Valley Tribune and the Green Valley News & Sun.