Boehner caught in Ex-Im crossfire

Greg Nash

Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerCameras go dark during House Democrats' sit-in Rubio flies with Obama on Air Force One to Orlando Juan Williams: The capitulation of Paul Ryan MORE (R-Ohio) is caught between his lieutenants and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellGun-control supporters plan next steps versus NRA McConnell: Trump needs to act like a 'serious candidate' Overnight Finance: Wall Street awaits Brexit result | Clinton touts biz support | New threat to Puerto Rico bill? | Dodd, Frank hit back MORE (R-Ky.) when it comes to the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank.

While McConnell, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) have all endorsed letting the bank’s charter expire on June 30 — as have many of the party’s presidential hopefuls — BoehnerJohn BoehnerCameras go dark during House Democrats' sit-in Rubio flies with Obama on Air Force One to Orlando Juan Williams: The capitulation of Paul Ryan MORE has declined to take a position.

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Asked last month whether he supports letting Ex-Im expire, Boehner deferred to Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), the chairman of the Financial Services Committee and the bank’s biggest critic.

"I support any plan that the chairman can get through his committee, whether it would reform the bank, wind it down," Boehner said.

Business groups, which have been allies of Boehner throughout his political career, are fighting aggressively to save the bank, which provides federal loan guarantees to promote American exports.

Conservative critics say the bank is an example of corporate cronyism at its worst, and appear to be gaining ground in their years-long campaign to shut it down once and for all.

Advocates on both sides of the debate now expect the Ex-Im’s charter to temporarily lapse, setting the stage for a showdown in the run-up to the August recess.

While Hensarling is unlikely to move legislation renewing the bank through committee, supporters of Ex-Im are increasingly eyeing a new strategy of attaching renewal of the charter to a funding bill for highways and transportation projects.

With that money set to run out at the end of July, it’s likely that the Senate will attach Ex-Im to a transportation bill, putting the onus on the House.

In that scenario, Boehner has pledged to allow a vote on whether to keep Ex-Im in the legislation, thus letting the House “work its will” on the issue.

“The only commitment the Speaker has made on the Export-Import Bank is to Chairman Hensarling, who asked that — if the Senate attaches Ex-Im to a ‘must pass’ bill and sends it over to the House — he be allowed to offer amendments under an open process," said Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith. "The Speaker told him he would have the opportunity to do so.”

A vote in July on Ex-Im would be a high-stakes affair, with Tea Party groups such as Heritage Action and Freedom Partners lobbying to kill the bank, and business behemoths such as the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce working to save it.

Democrats and centrist Republicans support the bank, arguing it provides benefits across the economy, to businesses both large and small.

But the conservative opposition to the bank has reached a fever pitch, spurring many GOP White House hopefuls to line up against it.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who launched a second presidential bid this week, has disavowed his prior support for Ex-Im. In the Senate, presidential candidates Sens. Marco RubioMarco RubioO'Malley gives Trump a nickname: 'Chicken Donald' Gun-control supporters plan next steps versus NRA Va. GOP delegate files lawsuit over bound convention votes MORE (R-Fla.), Ted CruzTed CruzO'Malley gives Trump a nickname: 'Chicken Donald' Va. GOP delegate files lawsuit over bound convention votes Our most toxic export: American politick MORE (R-Texas) and Rand PaulRand PaulRepublicans question Trump's trip to Scotland Hate TV customer service? So does your senator Overnight Cybersecurity: Senate narrowly rejects expanding FBI surveillance powers MORE (R-Ky.) are also calling for the bank to be dissolved. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker are against the bank as well.

GOP presidential candidates Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamGun-control supporters plan next steps versus NRA Bipartisan gun measure survives test vote Senate Republicans may defy NRA on guns MORE (R-S.C.) and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) support Ex-Im.

It's unclear how a temporary lapse in the bank's charter would affect the debate. Business groups say the negative repercussions on the economy would be felt immediately; Ex-Im critics predict those warnings would prove hollow.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), whose panel has jurisdiction on Ex-Im in the Senate, said the outcome of the fight will "depend on the mood of the House and the Senate in July."

"But once things expire it's probably more difficult for the bank to get reauthorized," said Shelby, who has pressed for reforms to Ex-Im but seems open to its reauthorization.

Ex-Im Chairman Fred Hochberg told The Hill that he has not met with Boehner or his office about the expiring charter.

But Hochberg said that his message to Boehner would be that "exporters and their workers need certainty to keep exporting and to keep people working. So this uncertainty alone is causing difficulties." 

Should the bank's charter expire June 30, "it will certainly make it harder for exporters and their workers," Hochberg said.

Rep. Denny HeckDenny HeckHeck enjoys second political wind Incoming lawmaker feeling a bit overwhelmed MORE (D-Wash.), a member of the Financial Services Committee fighting for the bank's survival, said that a temporary expiration "unfortunately may even help" the bank secure a long-term reauthorization in July.

"Immediately businesses are going to be impacted. It's not going to take weeks. It's not going to take months," Heck said. "There will be immediate job loss."

Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), another bank supporter who serves on the board of a company that benefited from Ex-Im financing, said that he believes "Boehner will find a vehicle."

"He's given assurances to outside groups that he's in support of it and that we'll see a vote," Collins said, adding that he's "befuddled" by the divisive split that's emerged in his party on the issue.

Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod BrownSenate Dem won't rule out blocking Puerto Rico debt relief Dodd and Frank: Judge was wrong in Dodd-Frank ruling Bernie Sanders’s awkward return to the Senate MORE (Ohio), the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee and an Ex-Im supporter, said that any temporary lapse in reauthorization would "make it more difficult for businesses."

"I can't understand why this hasn't happened," Brown said. "It's injecting an ideological fervor into something that we used to be able to do together. It was bipartisan. Now it's pretty troubling."

The fight over Ex-Im has created strange political bedfellows, with many Democrats working with big businesses that they frequently criticize.

Heck even had praise for Rep. Stephen FincherStephen FincherRep. Fincher to retire Export-Import Bank takes step toward renewal Transportation deal includes Ex-Im renewal MORE (R-Tenn.), a conservative who introduced a reauthorization bill in the House that would reform the bank.

"If you'd have told me a year and a half ago that Steve Fincher would end up being a very good friend, I'd have said, 'What are you smoking? Did you move to Washington state?' " Heck joked, referencing his state's legalization of marijuana.