House Democrats this week lost two procedural votes in the full chamber that could have led to floor consideration of their bill to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, moves that current and former congressional aides say are aimed at putting pressure on the House Republican leadership to allow a floor vote on Ex-Im renewal.
Both attempts failed on party-line votes, allowing House Democrats to claim that Republicans blocked their Ex-Im bill from coming to the floor. This will encourage business groups to put pressure on these Republicans and the House GOP leadership to allow a floor vote on Ex-Im reauthorization bill, these sources said.
House Democrats are pursuing this strategy because they do not believe that House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), who has called for the bank's elimination, will allow the committee to mark up an Ex-Im reauthorization bill before the bank's charter expires on June 30.
The second procedural vote came during a March 19 floor debate on a rule providing for consideration of two resolutions, one on House congressional committee expenses and another that is critical of the National Labor Relations Board; the first attempt was during consideration of the rule governing debate on two bills aimed at reforming the Environmental Protection Agency on March 17.
During those debates, House Democrats announced their intention to propose an amendment to the rule that would have required consideration of their Ex-Im bill, H.R. 1031, immediately following House approval of the rule.
But before Democrats could do so, the House held a vote on whether to end debate on the rule, known in parliamentary jargon as ordering the "previous question." In both cases, House Republicans overwhelmingly voted to end debate.
If Democrats had won that procedural vote, that would have opened up a debate on the amended rule, which would have provided for immediate consideration of the Ex-Im bill. Only if that amended rule was approved would the House have moved to consider the actual Ex-Im bill.
One Democratic congressional aide said this was merely the beginning of efforts by House Democrats to try and force a House floor vote on Ex-Im reauthorization. "This is just the first in likely a number of efforts that we will make to -- first of all, bring the legislation to the broader House, and second of all, to facilitate or force some difficult votes for members we know who support the bank," this aide said.
The hope, this aide said, is that by staging votes where it appears that Republican supporters of Ex-Im are voting against the bank's reauthorization, it will cause business groups and other Ex-Im supporters to pressure these lawmakers. These members would then turn to the House Republican leadership to ease the pressure in some way, the aide said.
Financial Services Ranking Member Maxine Waters (D-CA) in a March 17 statement blasted Republican supporters of Ex-Im for siding with the "extremist wing" of their party in the procedural vote. "In the future, I urge them to put jobs, the economy and American businesses over what's politically expedient," she said.
Chris Vieson, a partner at Public Strategies Washington who was previously an aide to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, agreed that staged votes like the ones held this week put pressure on the House Republican leadership to act on Ex-Im.
"There's nothing more powerful than having recorded votes," Vieson said. "This way, they can go to the [U.S. Chamber of Commerce], outside business groups and say, 'Hey, we're the ones trying to support you here. It's Republicans who are blocking this. You need to put pressure on House Republican leadership to move a bill.' It's not often Democrats are pushing for Big Business priorities and Republicans aren't."
Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA), a lead co-sponsor of the Democrat-backed Ex-Im bill, earlier this month laid out a two-step strategy that hinges on convincing House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to bring an Ex-Im reauthorization bill to the floor with or without Hensarling's consent (Inside U.S. Trade, March 13).
This congressional aide noted that House Democrats last year framed a number of procedural votes around the issue of flood insurance, where they were able to argue that Republican lawmakers were blocking efforts to renew it. This eventually led to Cantor negotiating a deal with Waters that circumvented Hensarling and brought a flood insurance bill to the floor.
Vieson said these procedural votes can be used by the minority party to highlight certain political issues, regardless of what the rule is actually about.
"They can use it as a political 'got-you vote,'" he said. "The [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee], outside Super PACs can presumably take the vote ... and run ads against the Republicans next fall if anything were to happen to the bank."