It took a historic procedural move to get the House to vote on the Export-Import Bank, a process that moved closer to reality with Monday night’s motion to set up a floor vote Tuesday. Getting the bank actually reauthorized may take a more typical Washington maneuver: tying it to must-pass legislation as Congress rushes to meet a flurry of late-year deadlines.
Even as bank allies celebrate the rare success of their discharge petition, which forced the House vote on Export-Import, they’re weighing fresh ideas to bring back the bank that expired in July. “If you can conceive of a scenario, I’ve probably heard it mentioned,” said Rep. Denny Heck, one of the most outspoken Ex-Im supporters. That’s because the stand-alone bill advancing in the House has dim prospects in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will not spend precious legislative time on a program he does not support.
The motion to discharge the bill passed the House 246-177 on Monday night, with 184 Democrats and 62 Republicans backing it. It’s expected to gain an even bigger majority when it comes up for passage, but where it goes from there is unclear.
The most commonly advanced notion is that the bank will ride on the Highway Trust Fund, which itself is facing a looming expiration date. Other reports said Export-Import would be part of a two-year budget deal being negotiated by top congressional leaders and the White House, but a House source said that is not the case.
“For some time now, we've all talked about adding this to the transportation bill,” said Rep. Maxine Waters, the ranking member on the Financial Services Committee. “That's possibly where it will be done. I'm very optimistic that we will get it done.”
Others were still hopeful that the bank could get rolled into the budget package expected to come before Congress this week. “If there's an overwhelming show of bipartisan support on this, why not work it into the budget agreement and just get done with it?” said Rep. Ron Kind, who chairs the business-friendly New Democrat Coalition. “There's interest on both sides to just resolve this and move on rather than drag it out.” Kind noted the revenue concerns hanging over the Highway Trust Fund as a potential complication for that plan.
The bank, which finances U.S. exports, is viewed by most Democrats and business-friendly Republicans as an important job creator. They’ve pointed to job and contract losses at Boeing and GE since the bank’s expiration as a warning of what will happen if it continues to languish.
Opponents on the far right, including House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, view the bank as little more than corporate cronyism, using government dollars to prop up some businesses at the expense of others. So far, those conservatives have succeeded at keeping Ex-Im in procedural purgatory, despite clear majorities of support in both houses of Congress.
Still, supporters are hopeful that the House’s move—while only symbolic until the Senate acts—will at least be a catalyst to break down the entrenched opposition. “This is a fairly important step toward some sort of regular order in the House,” said Rep. Gwen Moore, the ranking member on the House Monetary Policy and Trade subcommittee. “This vote tonight represents a breakthrough from the stranglehold that the House has experienced from these 40 people in the so-called Freedom Caucus.”
Heck suggested that McConnell’s opposition may wither following the success of the discharge petition—which was initiated and supported by 42 members of the GOP—and pressure from his own blue-state members up for reelection. “This becomes part of tightening the vise on the Senate,” he said. “[McConnell] can say that, but when [Illinois Sen. Mark] Kirk comes to him and says, ‘This is really important for my state,’ I strongly suspect the tone of that conversation will change.”
But Democrats were hard-pressed to say what more they can do, other than wait for Senate Republicans to see the light. And, of course, vocalizing their disapproval. “Every chance we get to call out a story of a job loss underscores the importance of them taking this up,” Heck said. “This is the beginning of the drumbeat if we don’t act.”
Moore expressed hope that Speaker John Boehner’s resignation will allow the GOP to take up a number of tricky issues before he leaves, including Ex-Im. “I’m trying to be optimistic here,” she said. “I’m trying to believe there are grown-ups in the Republican Party who are able to see what the public sees. … I have no prediction. I only have hope.”
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