Conservatives in the House view the looming fate of the Export-Import Bank as a major test for Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s future in leadership, two of the lawmakers told The Daily Signal.
Reps. Raúl Labrador, R-Idaho, and Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas, talked yesterday about the efforts of Democrats and “establishment” Republicans to save the 80-year-old federal agency after participating in Conversations with Conservatives, a monthly gathering of free market and liberty-minded lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
“Kevin McCarthy made some pretty strong comments” indicating he is against reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank, Huelskamp told The Daily Signal. “This is really the test of whether he wants to stay as majority leader for a lot of us.”
“It’s going to be interesting to see if McCarthy allows any bill that continues the bank,” Labrador said.
In an appearance on “Fox News Sunday” last month, McCarthy said he was in favor of allowing the bank’s charter to expire Sept. 30. The newly elected majority leader’s comments differ from those of his predecessor, Virginia’s Eric Cantor, who was instrumental in brokering the deal with Democrats to reauthorize the bank in 2012.
McCarthy will take over as the No. 2 Republican on July 31 when Cantor steps down from the post following his primary election defeat. But the California Republican faces another election for the leadership following November’s midterm elections.
Although McCarthy counts himself among the House’s conservative ranks, some view him as too close to Cantor and Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. Both men have supported the bank but said they would defer on its reauthorization to Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas.
Republican lawmakers gathered yesterday afternoon for a closed-door briefing on the Ex-Im Bank’s future led by Hensarling. Aides billed the meeting as “Ex-Im 101” for members who aren’t familiar with the agency, which provides taxpayer-backed loans and loan guarantees to foreign companies and countries that purchase U.S. exports.
Labrador, who ran against McCarthy for majority leader, said he didn’t expect the Republican conference to present a united front on the bank’s future.
Labrador and Huelskamp back Hensarling in favoring an end to the bank in September. Others hope to see a bill that winds down Ex-Im over several years or offers “reforms” to improve transparency and accountability.
Huelskamp said the debate presents a crucial opportunity for House Republicans:
This is, I think, a make or break time for the Republican Party here in Congress. Who are we going to stick up for? Are we going to stick up for Wall Street or Main Street? And with Ex-Im Bank, it’s pretty clear.
Backers of the agency say it helps businesses compete in the global market and creates American jobs. Opponents argue that it furthers corporate cronyism and corporate welfare.
Most Americans, Huelskamp said, would take the latter view if they were well informed about the bank:
I know what constituents want. They’re tired of somebody in Washington, some extra-special bureaucrat, that gets to decide the Boeings of the world deserve bailouts. … They want somebody to say, ‘Let’s look out for the small businesses. They get the crumbs of this.’