House approves Export-Import bill in bipartisan vote despite fire from right

The House on Wednesday passed a reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, 330-93, despite strong resistance from conservative lawmakers.

Not one Democrat opposed the bill, while 93 Republicans rejected it, including members of the GOP leadership team. The legislation has the blessing of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and is expected to become law. 

The overwhelming approval of the House bill came in the wake of delicate negotiations between House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

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The Cantor-Hoyer deal triggered protests from right-leaning groups, including the Club for Growth, while attracting praise from industry officials. 

Cantor compromised with Democrats and agreed to a three-year extension of the bank, whose charter is slated to expire May 31, and a phased-in $40 billion increase in its lending capacity, the amount President Obama had been seeking. 

The bank is of vital interest to business groups because it offers loans and loan guarantees to help firms purchase U.S.-made goods and services overseas. 

The bipartisan accord was deemed unacceptable to some Republicans, including Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.). Following the vote, Ryan said he has always voted against the bank, citing free-market principles. 

Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, was more blunt. In a release, Jordan said that “some supporters of this bill actually argue that we must expand Ex-Im now so we can eliminate it later. Only in Washington is a 40 percent increase characterized as a phase-out. The right thing to do is step back and allow this unnecessary government agency to expire on June 1.”

A couple of high-ranking members of the House GOP leadership team, Reps. Jeb Hensarling (Texas) and Tom Price (Ga.), voted no. 

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who is facing a primary challenge, also rejected the legislation. 

Regardless, the bill’s passage represented a rare bipartisan achievement in the House just six months before the election. The House is a notoriously partisan chamber, but Republicans and Democrats have worked together in recent weeks to pass high-profile measures on jobs and banning congressional insider trading. Both were subsequently signed into law.

Many Republicans were skittish about reauthorizing what conservative groups such as the Club for Growth and Heritage Action have criticized as a corporate welfare program, even though the self-sustaining bank does not cost taxpayers money. These groups key-voted against the bill.

On the other side, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and other big business groups pushed hard for passage. 

Cantor said he was able to support the bill because it contains new language requiring Treasury Department officials to negotiate the global end of export subsidies.

This provision was backed by Delta Airlines, which says it suffers when foreign airlines receive Ex-Im subsidies to buy Boeing aircraft. Boeing is Ex-Im’s biggest customer. 

“Make no mistake, I’m no fan of government subsidies,” said Cantor. “Export subsidies distort the free market and global trade. And in a perfect world, the Ex-Im Bank, along with its counterparts in Europe, Asia and elsewhere, would not exist.”

Freshman Rep. Sandy Adams (R-Fla.), a Tea Party Caucus member, opposed the bill, while Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) approved it. Adams and Mica will face each other in an Aug. 14 primary.

A group of core fiscal conservatives were not swayed, and some appeared disaffected with GOP leadership on Wednesday.

“We went to our leadership — in fact, conservatives in both the House and the Senate went to the leadership of both bodies and said, ‘Look, here’s some conservative reforms.’ And we were told very politely on both sides of the building, ‘Thanks, but we don’t need your votes,’ ” Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) lamented. 

Mulvaney and others had been floating reform ideas to House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), an aide explained. 

Asked if he was concerned that GOP leaders were not interested in conservative input, Mulvaney replied: “Does it concern me that they’re negotiating with the Democrats? They’ve been doing that for the last 16 months. Does it concern me? Yes. Does it surprise me? No.”

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) said the bill was passed due to lobbying pressure.

“A lot of these have to do with the political machine in Washington — they’ve got to have this big program, that big program,” he said. “But there’s a fundamental principle here: I don’t think Washington needs to be in the export finance business.”

Senate hopeful Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) told The Hill he did not want to criticize Cantor, but said he and others wanted more. 

“There are some reforms in here that are frankly good, but if it were up to me I wouldn’t reauthorize it,” he said. “I am not going to criticize Eric for getting what he got.”

During the debate, Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) said he was skeptical about the ability of Ex-Im to continue earning money for taxpayers: “That’s what they told us about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac until they blew up in our face.”

The fire from the right contrasted sharply with praise from Obama’s Ex-Im Bank head.

Fred Hochberg, Ex-Im’s chairman and president, said the House-passed reauthorization is “very close” to what the White House was seeking, which was a four-year extension of the bank’s authority and to increase its lending limit to $140 billion. 

“Politics is the art of what’s possible. It’s a good deal,” Hochberg said. 

For Cantor and Hoyer, who have engaged in sharp exchanges on the floor this Congress, the deal is the latest sign that the debaters have found a way to collaborate.  

Until several months ago, and during last year’s deficit battles, Cantor and Hoyer would engage in lengthy, acerbic exchanges during their weekly colloquy on the House floor. Neither lawmaker acknowledged the other as they crossed paths exiting the chamber.

That dynamic, however, changed this spring. For example, Cantor and Hoyer last month held a 10-minute chat at the rear of the chamber.

Aides to both leaders say that while they are not the best of friends, they have joined forces on certain issues, notably on showing support for Israel. 

The bank bill now moves on to the Senate. An aide said the measure will come to the floor as soon as amendment agreements with Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) can be negotiated.

— Molly K. Hooper, Russell Berman and Kevin Bogardus contributed to this report. 

Updated at 9:05 p.m.

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