Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada listens at left as Sen. Charles… (J. Scott Applewhite / AP…)
One measure of the extreme polarization of the House is that GOP leaders bring bills to the floor only if they have enough Republican votes to approve them. With the exception of the occasional must-pass spending bill, measures that aren't ideologically pure enough to attract support from 90% of the Republican ranks just don't get considered. Last week, however, the leadership broke from that practice to strike a compromise with Democrats over a bill to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank despite sharp opposition from some conservatives. The bipartisan majority pushed the bill through the House last week, and the Senate followed suit Tuesday.
The Ex-Im Bank promotes exports by providing loans and credit guarantees to foreign buyers of U.S. goods. It receives no taxpayer funds — its costs are covered by the fees it charges — but the federal government would be on the hook for any losses if the bank failed. Although many American companies back the bank because it helps them sell their products in foreign markets where private credit is scarce, some firms — most notably Delta Air Lines — complain that gives an unfair advantage to foreign competitors who do business here. Foreign buyers of Boeing jets received close to half the dollars lent by the bank since 2007.
The split in the business community was mirrored in the Republican ranks, with most members supporting the bank but a faction of conservatives aligned with the"tea party"wanting it to cease operations when its charter expired at the end of May. The former say the bank's loans support thousands of jobs; the latter complain that it's a form of corporate welfare that would cost taxpayers if defaults rose unexpectedly.
Such discord would ordinarily have been enough to stop the House from acting, even though most Democrats and President Obama were eager to reauthorize the bank. But House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) crafted a compromise renewing the bank's charter for three years and providing $40 billion in new lending authority. It passed with 147 Republicans and 183 Democrats in favor and 93 Republicans opposed.
The measure would improve safeguards against taxpayer losses, increase scrutiny of the bank's operations and require the administration to negotiate with other developed nations for an end to export subsidies. That's a reasonable middle ground. But just as important, perhaps, was the GOP leadership's willingness to look beyond its foxhole. House rules give SpeakerJohn A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and his team near-total control of the House agenda, as they do for whichever party is in control. Too often, they've ceded that control to the fraction of their membership that's least interested in governing. Here's hoping for more votes like the one we saw on the Ex-Im Bank.