Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Export-Import Bank Gets Unstuck in the House, While Its Senate Fate Is Uncertain

A discharge petition finally budged the bill out of the lower chamber. What's next?

It took a his­tor­ic pro­ced­ur­al move to get the House to vote on the Ex­port-Im­port Bank, a pro­cess that moved closer to real­ity with Monday night’s mo­tion to set up a floor vote Tues­day. Get­ting the bank ac­tu­ally reau­thor­ized may take a more typ­ic­al Wash­ing­ton man­euver: ty­ing it to must-pass le­gis­la­tion as Con­gress rushes to meet a flurry of late-year dead­lines.

Even as bank al­lies cel­eb­rate the rare suc­cess of their dis­charge pe­ti­tion, which forced the House vote on Ex­port-Im­port, they’re weigh­ing fresh ideas to bring back the bank that ex­pired in Ju­ly. “If you can con­ceive of a scen­ario, I’ve prob­ably heard it men­tioned,” said Rep. Denny Heck, one of the most out­spoken Ex-Im sup­port­ers. That’s be­cause the stand-alone bill ad­van­cing in the House has dim pro­spects in the Sen­ate, where Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell has said he will not spend pre­cious le­gis­lat­ive time on a pro­gram he does not sup­port.

The mo­tion to dis­charge the bill passed the House 246-177 on Monday night, with 184 Demo­crats and 62 Re­pub­lic­ans back­ing it. It’s ex­pec­ted to gain an even big­ger ma­jor­ity when it comes up for pas­sage, but where it goes from there is un­clear.

The most com­monly ad­vanced no­tion is that the bank will ride on the High­way Trust Fund, which it­self is fa­cing a loom­ing ex­pir­a­tion date. Oth­er re­ports said Ex­port-Im­port would be part of a two-year budget deal be­ing ne­go­ti­ated by top con­gres­sion­al lead­ers and the White House, but a House source said that is not the case.

“For some time now, we’ve all talked about adding this to the trans­port­a­tion bill,” said Rep. Max­ine Wa­ters, the rank­ing mem­ber on the Fin­an­cial Ser­vices Com­mit­tee. “That’s pos­sibly where it will be done. I’m very op­tim­ist­ic that we will get it done.”

Oth­ers were still hope­ful that the bank could get rolled in­to the budget pack­age ex­pec­ted to come be­fore Con­gress this week. “If there’s an over­whelm­ing show of bi­par­tis­an sup­port on this, why not work it in­to the budget agree­ment and just get done with it?” said Rep. Ron Kind, who chairs the busi­ness-friendly New Demo­crat Co­ali­tion. “There’s in­terest on both sides to just re­solve this and move on rather than drag it out.” Kind noted the rev­en­ue con­cerns hanging over the High­way Trust Fund as a po­ten­tial com­plic­a­tion for that plan.

The bank, which fin­ances U.S. ex­ports, is viewed by most Demo­crats and busi­ness-friendly Re­pub­lic­ans as an im­port­ant job cre­at­or. They’ve poin­ted to job and con­tract losses at Boe­ing and GE since the bank’s ex­pir­a­tion as a warn­ing of what will hap­pen if it con­tin­ues to lan­guish.

Op­pon­ents on the far right, in­clud­ing House Fin­an­cial Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man Jeb Hensarling, view the bank as little more than cor­por­ate cronyism, us­ing gov­ern­ment dol­lars to prop up some busi­nesses at the ex­pense of oth­ers. So far, those con­ser­vat­ives have suc­ceeded at keep­ing Ex-Im in pro­ced­ur­al pur­gat­ory, des­pite clear ma­jor­it­ies of sup­port in both houses of Con­gress.

Still, sup­port­ers are hope­ful that the House’s move—while only sym­bol­ic un­til the Sen­ate acts—will at least be a cata­lyst to break down the en­trenched op­pos­i­tion. “This is a fairly im­port­ant step to­ward some sort of reg­u­lar or­der in the house,” said Rep. Gwen Moore, the rank­ing mem­ber on the House Mon­et­ary Policy and Trade sub­com­mit­tee. “This vote to­night rep­res­ents a break­through from the strangle­hold that the House has ex­per­i­enced from these 40 people in the so-called Free­dom Caucus.”

Heck sug­ges­ted that Mc­Con­nell’s op­pos­i­tion may with­er fol­low­ing the suc­cess of the dis­charge pe­ti­tion—which was ini­ti­ated and sup­por­ted by 42 mem­bers of the GOP—and pres­sure from his own blue-state mem­bers up for reelec­tion. “This be­comes part of tight­en­ing the vise on the Sen­ate,” he said. “[Mc­Con­nell] can say that, but when [Illinois Sen. Mark] Kirk comes to him and says, ‘This is really im­port­ant for my state,’ I strongly sus­pect the tone of that con­ver­sa­tion will change.”

But Demo­crats were hard-pressed to say what more they can do, oth­er than wait for Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans to see the light. And, of course, vo­cal­iz­ing their dis­ap­prov­al. “Every chance we get to call out a story of a job loss un­der­scores the im­port­ance of them tak­ing this up,” Heck said. “This is the be­gin­ning of the drum­beat if we don’t act.”

Moore ex­pressed hope that Speak­er John Boehner’s resig­na­tion will al­low the GOP to take up a num­ber of tricky is­sues be­fore he leaves, in­clud­ing Ex-Im. “I’m try­ing to be op­tim­ist­ic here,” she said. “I’m try­ing to be­lieve there are grownups in the Re­pub­lic­an Party who are able to see what the pub­lic sees. … I have no pre­dic­tion. I only have hope.”