Top Republicans Will Support Export-Import Petition

Republican lawmakers frustrated with conservative members who refuse to renew the Export-Import Bank’s charter are coalescing around an unorthodox plan to bring a reauthorization bill to the House floor.

On Wednesday, Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) began circulating a discharge petition to force the House to consider a measure that would renew the bank’s charter. The petition is a rarely used parliamentary tactic that requires 218 members, a majority of the House, to ask for consideration of a specific bill. It is a way of bypassing House leaders who oppose the legislation.

“The House deserves a clean vote on the bill,” said Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) in an interview Thursday. “I would hope that the committee and/or leadership would still make that happen. But short of that, the House needs a vote and we’ll see what the alternatives are.” Asked whether he would sign the petition, Lucas said, “If that’s the last resort, if there’s no other choice, I’ll be with Mr. Fincher.”

Lucas is a top Republican on the House Financial Services Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Export-Import Bank. Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) is a powerful opponent of the bank who has prevented reauthorization attempts from going through his committee. Hensarling declined to comment on Fincher’s petition.

At her Wednesday press briefing, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Democrats would support the petition if Republicans could ensure that their combined efforts would yield a majority. “If Republicans have enough people on their discharge petition, then we will join in and then go from there,” she said. “I’m optimistic that they will, from what I hear on the other side.”

The sense among pro-bank Republicans is that the fight over the institution has dragged on long enough, and any viable path forward deserves serious consideration.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) spoke freely of his frustration with Republican colleagues who oppose reauthorization. “They don’t understand,” he said. “More of them need to get out into the world and see the competition our manufacturers are facing.”

Mica brushed off concerns about cooperating with Democrats on the petition. “I would sign it. Whatever it takes,” he said in an interview Thursday.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a deputy majority whip, demurred on whether he would support the petition, but he spoke favorably of any attempt to get a vote on Ex-Im reauthorization.

Signing petitions “is usually not what whips do,” Cole told Morning Consult on Thursday. “But I don’t think they’re going to need my help. I support the Ex-Im bank, so however it gets down to the floor I’ll vote for it.”

The Export-Import Bank provides loan guarantees to American manufacturers to finance their exports, with an aim to create and maintain jobs in the United States. It is a prime target for conservatives who say it’s a vehicle for “crony capitalism” because it provides government financing for certain companies and not others. Proponents say it as a vital way to support U.S. exports in a competitive global economy.

Boeing Co. and General Electric Co., two of the top recipients of Export-Import Bank financing, have said they plan to move some operations overseas due to their inability to get government financing since the bank lost its charter on June 30.

Conservatives, who have already framed the current three-month gap in bank authorization as a major victory, vowed to keep up their fight against the federal agency. They are prepared to pin blame for any reauthorization attempt on outgoing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), their longtime nemesis.

“No one should be surprised that John Boehner is putting the Chamber of Commerce’s priorities over the need to build and expand the party,” said Dan Holler, communications director for Heritage Action, the political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, in an email Thursday.

“Closing an 80-year old agency that was part of FDR’s industrial policy sent a signal that the GOP was serious about reducing the role of government and combating cronyism,” Holler said.

But now, the signals coming from the House Republican Conference appear more mixed.

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