Conservatives have succeeded in shutting down new business at the Export-Import Bank for more than four months now, but their victory will be short lived.
As soon as next week, talks will begin on a compromise House-Senate bill authorizing highway funding for the next six years. Included in the bills from both chambers are identical provisions to reauthorize the bank, essentially bringing it back to life.
The bank was supposed to be a major sticking point between the House and Senate highway bills. Senate Republicans included it as an amendment in their legislation in exchange for winning Democratic votes for a free trade bill. House Republicans appeared poised to fight to keep it out of their own highway bill.
Opponents included Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. But last week, House Republican leaders allowed the Export-Import Bank reauthorization to become part of the House-passed transportation bill through an oddly constructed rule governing debate.
"The Speaker's opposition to the Export-Import bank is well-known," his spokeswoman, AshLee Strong, said. "He believes it's crony capitalism. But he didn't get elected dictator of the House. He got elected Speaker of the House. He allowed an open amendment process and let the House work its will."
Opposing lawmakers tried to counter the move by introducing a dozen amendments that would have reformed and reined in the bank. But every amendment on the bank was rejected.
The bank provision survived intact, and is now likely to win reauthorization as part of the House-Senate compromise bill authorizing highway spending. The bill must clear Congress by Nov. 20.
The top lawmakers who have led the charge against the bank, including House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, have said little about its impending revival and didn't revolt when it was included in the House highway funding bill.
"The outrageous legislative process constructed by the House Rules Committee this week suggests GOP leaders in the House have given up the fight," said Dan Holler, a spokesman for the conservative Heritage Action for America.
But many believed the bank's revival was inevitable because it was supported by majorities in both parties in the House and Senate.
Conservatives began losing the fight to kill off the bank last month, when the House passed a standalone measure to revive it with a rarely achieved discharge petition. The move circumvented then-House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who had refused to bring up the bill in deference to his far-right flank.
Conservatives opponents argued that Export-Import loans and loan guarantees mostly benefit big corporations including Boeing and General Electric, and that few dollars trickled down to small businesses.
But lawmakers who backed the bank argued that it bolsters small, medium and large businesses by providing money for foreign companies to buy their exports.
The final vote on the House highway bill, with the Export-Import Bank reauthorization included, was 363-64.
That measure included bank reforms, the version in the highway bill does not.
The House has appointed 16 Republicans to serve as negotiators on a compromise bill with the Senate. Fewer than a third of those lawmakers voted to oppose the bank as a standalone measure in October.