GOP lawmaker plots Ex-Im power play

Greg Nash

A Republican House member on Wednesday initiated a seldom-used legislative maneuver aimed at forcing a vote to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, sparking a new battle between backers of the institution and the GOP’s conservative wing.

Rep. Stephen FincherStephen FincherRep. Fincher to retire Export-Import Bank takes step toward renewal Transportation deal includes Ex-Im renewal MORE began the formal process allowing him and a group of other House Republicans to file a discharge petition that could bring a vote on an Ex-Im reauthorization bill to the House floor as early as the end of next week.

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The Tennessee Republican said in an interview that he informed outgoing House Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerEXCLUSIVE: Pro-Hillary group takes 0K in banned donations Ryan: Benghazi report shows administration's failures Clinton can't escape Benghazi responsibility MORE (R-Ohio) of his plans, though he declined to discuss the Speaker’s reaction or name any other lawmakers joining him on the petition.

The federally backed bank, which helps provide financing to U.S. companies doing business in overseas markets, has traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support. But it has emerged as a top target for some Republicans, who deride it as a form of “corporate welfare.”

Conservatives, led by House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), forced the expiration of Ex-Im’s congressional charter on June 30 via Hensarling’s refusal to move a bill through his panel.

“It’s unfortunate that this is the series of events that has taken place, but we’ve got no choice. We need a vote,” Fincher told The Hill.

A discharge petition would allow Fincher to bypass Hensarling’s committee — which has jurisdiction on the issue  — and move his five-year reauthorization bill directly to the House floor, where Democrats and centrist Republicans are believed to have the votes needed for passage.

To move the discharge forward, Fincher will need 218 House members to sign on to the petition.

The plan drew swift fire Wednesday, with at least one conservative group warning lawmakers that siding with Fincher would not go unnoticed. 

“We don’t take this casually,” said Luke Hilgemann, CEO for Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group that opposes the bank. “We’ll be watching how members vote on this, and there absolutely will be consequences.”

But the strategy could provide political cover for the GOP leaders in the House, particularly House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is seen as heir apparent to BoehnerJohn BoehnerEXCLUSIVE: Pro-Hillary group takes 0K in banned donations Ryan: Benghazi report shows administration's failures Clinton can't escape Benghazi responsibility MORE.

Boehner supports the bank’s reauthorization, which is a top priority for some of Washington’s most powerful business groups. But any leadership-initiated effort to bring the bill up for a vote would spell a major headache for McCarthy, who opposes the bank, just as he is trying to shore up conservative support for the upcoming Speakership election.

A representative for Boehner did not respond to a request for comment on Fincher’s effort.

Boehner met Tuesday with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to discuss Ex-Im, though it’s unclear what the conversation entailed.

Still, at least one conservative group’s leader directed his assessment of the plan at the Speaker.

“Prediction: [Boehner] will leave government service with less class than Bill ClintonBill ClintonBill Clinton, Lynch met privately in Arizona Warren targets Amazon, Apple, Google in anti-monopoly speech Trump sends GOP pivoting to nowhere MORE did,” Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham tweeted in response to the news.

Opponents of Ex-Im say the bank is a taxpayer risk, because its financing of U.S. corporations’ international projects exists only in markets the private sector deems too risky. They are quick to note that most of the bank’s loan commitments go to corporations such as Boeing, Caterpillar and General Electric.

But the business community has rallied a coalition of Republicans and nearly all Democrats to ensure that the votes are there for the bank’s reauthorization. A bipartisan bill in the Senate is also believed to have the votes to pass.

Ex-Im supporters argue that the bank’s financing sustains U.S. jobs by allowing corporations to expand into emerging markets and feed domestic supply-chain businesses.

“Our backs are up against the wall and too many jobs are on the line,” Fincher said. “This is pretty urgent that we can get this done.”