Boehner publicly backed Hensarling, saying he would support whatever the Financial Services chairman could get through his committee, but also warned that “thousands of jobs” would be lost if the chairman allowed the bank’s authority to expire without at least offering a plan to wind it down. After Boehner announced his retirement and it became clear that Hensarling was not going to reach a deal with Fincher, the former speaker gave implicit consent to bank proponents to move forward with the discharge petition.
“There is no doubt in my mind John Boehner was an important part of facilitating the willingness of Mr. Fincher and [Rep. Frank] Lucas to initiate that [discharge] provision. ... There is no doubt Speaker Boehner was an important ally in getting this done,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said.
But Boehner is now gone, and he’s left behind a leadership team that unanimously opposes the Export-Import Bank. Even as conservative members and outside groups face another five years of a chartered Export-Import Bank, and a large enough cadre of Republicans who support it, opponents are hopeful. While they may have lost the battle, they argue, small victories along the way are preparing them to win the war further down the line.
The Export-Import Bank was hardly an issue for most members, Republican or Democrat, before 2012 when conservative groups began targeting it. Now, they have the backing of the speaker of the House, the leader of the Senate, a growing number of Republican members and, almost certainly, the Republican presidential nominee in 2016. If elected, that candidate would occupy the White House when Ex-Im comes up for another authorization in 2019.
Conservatives believe the momentum is in their direction. Ex-Im “shut down for the first time in its 80-year history," Holler said. "… There was a 2012 reauthorization that us and the Club [for Growth] were really engaged in and that for the first time in a couple of decades brought Ex-Im back to a point of contention."
Closing the bank for good in 2019, or whenever the opportunity arises, won’t be a major coup that will save the country, Holler noted. It’s a small-ball change compared to the larger issues facing the nation and will hardly be noticed by voters, many of whom have never even heard of the Export-Import Bank. But shutting down Ex-Im is part of a larger messaging strategy, one that will—with other, future legislative victories, they hope—help the party to reform its image and tap into voters’ antipathy for what they see as extreme federal measures to benefit large and wealthy corporations.
“What it would have been and will be in the future is a [statement] by the Republican Party that they’re willing to change, they’re willing to take on Wall Street and take on big business,” Holler said, giddy at the possibility of a debate between a Republican presidential nominee talking about opposing corporate welfare and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who supports the bank.
Five years is a long time to wait, but conservative groups say they’ll stay focused on Ex-Im. “We’re going to keep an eye on it [and] make sure all the lessons that have been learned over the last three years aren’t forgotten,” Holler said.
This article has been updated.
Alex Brown and Daniel Newhauser contributed to this article