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Conservatives prepare for showdown on Ex-Im Bank

Conservatives prepare for showdown on Ex-Im Bank

House conservatives are scrambling to come up with a strategy to prevent the resurrection of the Export-Import Bank.

Leaders of the conservative House Freedom Caucus said Wednesday the group has agreed to oppose any effort to reauthorize Ex-Im.

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They said they would use every procedural tactic available to make sure the bank can’t continue to operate, including resisting efforts to merge Ex-Im’s reauthorization with legislation funding highway projects. 

“I think we’re gonna use every procedural way of trying to separate both issues,” Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), a Freedom Caucus co-founder, said in a conference call. “They shouldn’t be in the same bill anyway. The highway bill has nothing to do with Ex-Im.”

Senate Republican leaders in the next few weeks are expected to attach an amendment extending the bank’s charter, which expired at the end of June, to a highway spending bill.

By merging the two issues, the bank’s supporters hope to win leverage in the fight over Ex-Im. Federal funds for highways expire at the end of the month, and lawmakers are unlikely to enter their August recess without approving at least a short-term extension.

BoehnerJohn BoehnerBoehner: 'Thank God' I wasn't in the middle of election Ryan delays committee assignments until 2017 Lobbying World MORE has said that bank opponents would be allowed a vote on an amendment stripping the Ex-Im language from the highway bill. But privately, Ex-Im critics concede that they likely do not have the support to win that vote. All of the House’s Democrats would be expected to oppose such an amendment, along with dozens of GOP supporters of the bank, which finances foreign investments for U.S. companies.

Ex-Im’s GOP opponents, however, argue that a majority of Republicans in both the House and the Senate oppose the bank.

The full House hasn’t voted on a stand-alone Ex-Im measure since 2012, when a large minority of House Republicans, 93, voted against it. Since then, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has joined opponents, and conservatives believe momentum is on their side.

Still, they appear to have no single strategy on what to do next.

Some suggested putting their hopes in the Senate, where GOP presidential candidates Sens. Ted CruzTed CruzCruz defends Trump's Taiwan call Ark., Texas senators put cheese dip vs. queso to the test Pentagon's suppressed waste report only tip of the inefficient machine MORE (Texas), Marco RubioMarco RubioWhat the 2016 election can tell us about 2018 midterms Fight over water bill heats up in Senate Brown-Mandel Ohio Senate race will be brutal referendum on Trumpism MORE (Fla.) and Rand PaulRand PaulGOP rep: Trump has 'extra-constitutional' view of presidency The ignored question: What does the future Republican Party look like? Rand Paul skeptical about Romney as secretary of State MORE (Ky.) oppose the bank.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellDems see ’18 upside in ObamaCare repeal Senate fight over miners' heathcare boils over Congress to clear path for Mattis MORE (R-Ky.) also personally opposes Ex-Im, and some House conservatives hope he could be convinced to move the highway bill without the Ex-Im provision.

But McConnell has promised that bank supporters will get a vote on renewing the charter this summer, and he described the highway bill as an “obvious” place for the vote.

The Senate held a test vote in June in which 65 senators voted to reauthorize the bank. Following that vote, McConnell told The Associated Press that it “looks to me like they have the votes, and I’m going to give them the opportunity.”

The best way for Export-Import Bank opponents to prevent its resurrection would be to get the House to vote on a highway bill with no Ex-Im provision and then refuse to take up a Senate bill tying the bank to transportation funding.

Conservatives have one major advantage in the fight: Ex-Im’s charter has already expired, meaning they can end the bank’s existence just by playing defense against legislation.

One way for conservatives to prevent reauthorization would be to vote against the rule on any bill containing Ex-Im language. They used that tactic earlier this summer, nearly taking down the fast-track trade bill.

Conservatives say they’ve taken no official stance on opposing a rule at this point.

“I do think it will make it more difficult for members of the Freedom Caucus to vote for a highway bill if Ex-Im is attached to it,” Labrador said.

Ex-Im splits grassroots conservatives from the pro-GOP business community.

Heritage Action and other Tea Party groups argue the bank unfairly determines the success of businesses by choosing which investments to back, calling it a form of Washington cronyism that should be made history.

But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and other business groups say it helps sustain thousands of jobs. Furthermore, China and other countries have similar enterprises. If the U.S. got out of the business, Ex-Im supporters say, it would be a form of unilateral disarmament.

Conservatives’ efforts are “ very misguided,” said Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), a former Transportation Committee chairman who backs extending Ex-Im.

“It would cut your knees out from underneath you in the international aviation field,” he said, noting projects backed by Boeing that have enjoyed financing from the bank.