A key House Republican supporter of the Export-Import Bank this week said he has the votes to stop his fellow conservatives from defeating a Senate-passed Ex-Im reauthorization if it is brought to the House floor and subject to an open amendment process.
Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) in a June 3 interview with Inside U.S. Trade said there will be a "strong, big number" of supporters that will ensure approval, and that it will include Democratic support. "This is a bipartisan piece of legislation. It's always been a bipartisan piece of legislation," he said. But he declined to provide a clear sense of the vote count on Ex-Im reauthorization.
Fincher said he expects a Senate-passed bill containing Ex-Im would bypass the committee process and be brought to the floor for a vote, based on his interpretation of a commitment that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has made to him. "He understands the importance of it, that it's all about jobs," Fincher said. "He desperately wants us to have our own product, he's made that clear, but this has got to be done."
The Ex-Im language that would ride on a Senate-passed bill is expected to reflect the legislation proposed by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND). But Fincher said he would attempt to remove that language and add in his own bill instead, despite the fact that the Kirk-Heitkamp bill is very similar to his. He noted that his bill contains more reforms than the Kirk-Heitkamp legislation.
Partially, Fincher's push for his own bill in the House seems driven by his doubt that the House will have the time to amend the Ex-Im reauthorization bill the Senate sends over, notwithstanding Boehner's commitment. "When things start moving and things start coming over from the Senate and we have a timeline and things get very hectic and very disorderly sometimes, I'm just concerned [that there will not be time for amendments]," he said. "We need to do this in the House. We need to have our own product."
At the same time, Fincher re-emphasized that he believes Boehner, who has publicly said the House would "work its will" on a Senate-passed Ex-Im bill with an open amendment process. "I believe the speaker 100 percent, " he said.
Both the Kirk-Heitkamp and the Fincher bills would extend the bank's charter to 2019 and lower its overall financing limit, although the Fincher bill lowers it to $130 billion while the Kirk-Heitkamp bill knocks it down to $135 billion. But one big difference between the bills is how they address a 2013 rule by the Obama administration that prevents Ex-Im from financing coal-fired power plants unless the project meets certain conditions.
Fincher's bill would explicitly prevent the Obama administration from spending any funds to implement the rule. In contrast, the Kirk-Heitkamp bill would prevent the bank from adopting policies that discriminate against a financing application based on the sector it concerns and states that this prohibition specifically applies to energy projects.
When pressed, Fincher did not rule out supporting the Kirk-Heitkamp language if his amendment attempts failed. "I would like our bill. We think ours is a little more conservative, does a little bit more," he said.
Fincher said he has not reached out to House Democrats to work together on coordinating amendments for an Ex-Im bill, although he said he has had some conversations with Kirk. Instead, Fincher said his focus has been gathering Republican support for his efforts. "We're happy when [House Democrats] want to support what we're trying to do, but we're still working on this side of the aisle to make this happen," he said.
Notwithstanding their previous opposition to theso-called "coal provision," Democrats could support the Fincher or the Kirk-Heitkamp bills undoing the administration's prohibition, according to Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).
Heck, who is a lead sponsor of the House Democratic Ex-Im reauthorization bill, said on June 3 he believes Democrats would at least support the Kirk-Heitkamp language on coal, and signaled that they could end up supporting the Fincher language.
"Well, the misgivings they have are frankly no different than the misgivings we have in the annual appropriations language," Heck said, referencing the fact that the coal language in Fincher's bill is identical to the language that has been attached to every appropriations package passed by Congress since January 2014.
"In fact, I would suggest that the [Kirk-Heitkamp] language is even a little better. So, one of two things will happen going forward: Democrats take back control of the House and Senate in which case we can change it, or Republicans retain control and we'll do this in the appropriations process anyway. It doesn't matter," he added.
The House Ex-Im bill backed by nearly every Democrat would extend the bank's charter until 2022, raise the financing limit to $165 billion, and enact some reforms. It is identical to the Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and nine other Democrats.
Separately, Klobuchar, who chairs the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee, also signaled that the coal provision will not be a major roadblock in gathering Democratic support.
"Democrats are pragmatically interested in moving forward on this, and we haven't had a lot of divide in our caucus," she said.
Fincher did not completely rule out the possibility of pushing his Ex-Im bill through the House Financial Services Committee, despite the stalwart opposition from Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) to extending the bank's charter past June 30.
During a June 3 hearing on Ex-Im, Hensarling said he would assess the level of support Ex-Im legislation has amongst the members of the committee, although he reiterated his belief that none of the bills have the support of a majority of either the committee or the House.
"The chair will not make a decision until after this hearing. I will listen to all colleagues. I'm not aware of any bill that is supported by a majority of the House, much less a majority of this committee. If I'm made aware of such, I assure you it will influence my thinking," he said.
Fincher acknowledged that Hensarling's remarks might be a stalling tactic, noting that he doesn't have to do anything to ensure the bank shuts down. If the chairman has not announced by the end of next week how he will proceed, Fincher said he'll pursue other options to get his legislation out of the committee.
"If we don't, then we will use every measure possible to make sure we get this done," he said. "There are all sorts of other tools we could use as leverage to get this to happen."
Fincher declined to say what these tools were, but Chris Vieson, a partner at Public Strategies Washington who was previously an aide to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, said he believed Fincher's best option was to wait for the Senate to send a bill to the House.
Vieson said he does not think Hensarling will budge on Ex-Im because he knows a majority of the committee and the House supports the bank's reauthorization. He added that House Democrats will back Fincher, as it is unlikely that their Ex-Im proposal will make it through.
Whether a conference will be held if Fincher changes the Ex-Im provision the Senate version is unclear as well. Vieson said the Senate could accept the changes in order to avoid a conference. But the approaching June 30 deadline for the Ex-Im's charter expiration will be a major factor in determining which lawmaker concedes.
"The June 30 deadline is the only thing that will cause people to blink," he said. How Ex-Im moves is also an important factor in that equation, Fincher said. "Until we see that, it's all theoretical."
Ex-Im supporters have contemplated a number of other options in order to circumvent Hensarling, although Vieson expressed doubt that Fincher will pursue them. He said a suspension of rules -- where legislation is brought to the floor for quick consideration requires a two-thirds majority for approval -- is done by the majority leader. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has expressed opposition to renewing Ex-Im's charter, Vieson noted.
But a Fincher spokeswoman countered that the congressman has discussed Ex-Im with McCarthy, saying that the majority leader understands the importance of the issue to him. Additionally, the spokeswoman said McCarthy lists Ex-Im on his list of priorities that need to be taken care of at retreats with Republican chiefs of staff.
In addition, Fincher is unlikely to pursue a discharge petition or try to amend rules on the House floor that so that his bill would be considered immediately. "A discharge petition and a procedural vote are tools of the minority party in the House. I don't believe he'll use those tools in the face of his leadership," Vieson said.
House Democrats have launched a discharge petition as well as used procedural votes in order to get their Ex-Im bill out of the committee.