WASHINGTON — The House acted with rare bipartisanship on Tuesday to approve legislation that would reopen the federal Export-Import Bank, after a debate that underscored the split between the party’s traditional pro-business members and ascendant free-market conservatives who are suspicious of big corporations.
[Reposted from The New York Times | Jackie Calmes | October 27, 2015]
The lopsided final vote of 313 to 118 belied that split, as a majority of Republicans allied with all but one Democrat to reauthorize the 81-year-old bank agency, but only once the bill’s passage was assured. Late Monday, just a quarter of Republicans supported an earlier vote — and an unusual legislative move — that made the final vote possible over the opposition of most party leaders.
The result, a victory for an alliance of business and organized labor, was a big step toward reversing a triumph for hard-line conservatives when they blocked the reauthorization of the small agency four months ago. Since then, the bank has been unable to offer new assistance to foreign buyers of American goods, managing only existing claims.
But the bank’s future may not be resolved until December. The House bill now goes to the Senate, which approved a similar bank reauthorization measure as part of an unrelated transportation bill. While the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, opposes the bank bill, the bipartisan House vote is expected to strengthen the hand of the bank’s proponents in negotiations over the transportation bill’s provisions.
Big and small businesses alike have increasingly complained of lost sales opportunities, and General Electric announced that it would move some operations out of the United States to take advantage of foreign countries’ export financing.
That increased the pressure by local businesses on many Republican lawmakers, but most hard-liners celebrated the bank’s lapse as a rare trophy in their battle to reduce the size and reach of the government and to cut “corporate welfare.” They were outraged by the latest turn of events.
“How rare is it that we actually reduce government around here?” said Representative Ron DeSantis, Republican of Florida. “Yet here we are debating resurrecting a defunct agency that has already gone out to pasture.”
Pro-bank Republicans and Democrats forced the vote over the wishes of most Republican leaders and influential free-market conservative groups, using a rare parliamentary tactic that wrested the bill from a hostile committee. But the pro-bank group had the critical support of Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, who wanted the bill to be resurrected before his resignation takes effect this week, and of powerful business interests, led by bank beneficiaries like G.E. and Boeing.
Mr. Boehner’s likely successor, Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, registered his “strong disapproval” of the bank in debate on the legislation on Tuesday. “I think there are plenty other ways to expand opportunity in this country, and corporate welfare is not one of them,” Mr. Ryan said.
He countered proponents’ contention that the United States, to protect jobs, must provide export financing to promote companies’ international sales because scores of countries do the same. “We should be exporting democratic capitalism, not crony capitalism,” he said.
For Mr. Ryan, the debate was an opportunity to show solidarity with Tea Party conservatives on the eve of his expected selection as speaker by House Republicans, followed by a vote in the full House on Thursday. Since he emerged this month as the consensus successor to Mr. Boehner, Mr. Ryan, whose conservatism was long taken for granted, has been assailed on the far right as insufficiently conservative and not confrontational enough — a reflection of how much farther to the right his party has shifted.
Two other Republicans on the House Financial Services Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Ex-Im Bank, represented the party’s opposing poles in the debate: the committee’s chairman, Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas, who had refused to have his panel act on any bill to preserve the bank, and a defiant member, Representative Stephen Fincher of Tennessee, who failed to persuade Mr. Hensarling to overhaul the agency rather than kill it.
Mr. Hensarling defined the issue on Tuesday as whether business success should be “dependent upon how hard you work on Main Street, or is it dependent upon who you know in Washington?”
“If we are ever, ever to deal with the threat of a social welfare state,” he added, “we must first take care of the corporate welfare state. And the face of the corporate welfare state is the Export-Import Bank.”
But Mr. Fincher said: “The facts are, this is a Republican reform bill. We’re fixing almost every problem that’s been raised.” He was referring to provisions in the bill intended to address critics’ complaints about past cases of corruption among bank employees or business beneficiaries.
“This is about us being competitive all around the world and making sure that we keep American jobs here at home,” Mr. Fincher added.
The Democrats’ leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, cited estimates that the bank had helped create 1.5 million jobs since 2007 in export industries and had earned $7 billion over two decades for the Treasury through proceeds from loan repayments.
The bank was approved repeatedly for decades by overwhelming bipartisan action and with little if any debate. But that has changed since the Ronald Reagan era and the rise of free-market, small-government ideology in the Republican Party, though Reagan as president came to be a champion of the bank agency.