An unlikely coalition of conservative and moderate House Republicans and all House Democrats joined forces Tuesday to resuscitate the Export-Import Bank of the United States.
In a 313-118 vote, the House of Representatives authorized the bank in the face of conservative opposition, which says the bank distorts the free market. Of the 244 Republicans who voted, 127 joined all but one Democrat, Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida, in approving the measure.
The Senate in earlier votes showed support for the bank, and the pressure will now be on Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to hold a vote.
The bank, which issues credit guarantees to U.S. companies for exports, was effectively shuttered for new business after June 30. Congress failed to renew its charter, leaving large companies like Boeing, a huge defense contractor, and small ones alike from receiving federal financing to help sell their products overseas.
“We have seen the economic hemorrhaging that was already happening this country because of congressional inaction on this issue,” David Ickert, vice president of finance at Air Tractor Inc., a West Texas company that makes small crop-dusting and firefighting planes, said in an email. “We need to correct that now as it only gets worse resulting in the loss of jobs.”
Bank supporters resorted to a little-used parliamentary maneuver known as a “discharge petition” to bypass committees and force the bill for a House vote. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, had refused to move a bill, calling the bank’s activities “crony capitalism” that was unnecessary in a free market.
Here we are on the floor in a bipartisan way, in support of good-paying jobs.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
The successful coalition of lawmakers developed when Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., a member of the panel supportive of the bank, began talking to House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
Promised Democratic support if he could marshal some GOP members, Fincher persuaded enough Republicans to sign on earlier this month to file the discharge petition, a tactic not used successfully since 2002, when Congress voted on campaign finance reform. It is extremely difficult for members in the majority to defy their party’s leadership to force a vote.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who is retiring at the end of the week, was a behind-the-scenes supporter of the Export-Import Bank, and the GOP rebels proceeded with his tacit approval.
“Those opposed to the discharge process claim that this tool is designed to be used exclusively by the minority,” Fincher said Monday night. “That’s simply not true. This is a Republican-led discharge petition that follows regular order and gives individual members a path forward when a committee fails to act.”
However, Republican leaders, responding to their party’s more conservative wing, made their presence felt. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who is expected to be elected speaker this week, offered his “strong disapproval” of the bill reauthorizing the bank.
“Are we going to reward good work or good connections?” asked Ryan.
He said the bank was a form of “corporate welfare,” where two-thirds of the money goes to 10 companies and 40 percent goes to one company – Boeing, which has led to the bank’s derisive name, the Bank of Boeing.
“We have had to educate people on the size of the supply chain where we have nearly 15,000 U.S. companies that are our suppliers,” countered Boeing spokesman Tim Neale in an interview.
“We get a lot of attention,” he acknowledged, but said that the aircraft maker needs the credit guarantees to be competitive when selling to foreign carriers.
Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash., stressed during the debate that the bank returns money to the federal treasury every year, including $675 million in 2014.
The pro-Ex-Im forces drew from some conservative Republican corners, such as two Texans, Reps. Ted Poe and Randy Weber.
And Fincher went out of his way to quote Ryan, who had supported federal bailouts in 2008 of the banking sector when he said, “If we fail to do the right thing, heaven help us.”