TIME Congress

Conservative Lawmaker Looks to Raise Profile, With Boehner’s Job a Possibility

Jeb Hensarling steps out, but won't say if he wants the Speaker's gavel

Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) made the case for major changes in American policy on Tuesday, as the conservative darling sought to raise his profile just as the Tea Party is losing steam in Republican primary fights across the country.

“The moment is ripe for us to make our case to the people,” said Hensarling, who has been rumored to want House Speaker John Boehner’s gavel. During a 38-minute speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, Hensarling called government “too big, too powerful, too intrusive, too expensive and too arrogant.” He advocated for a flat tax, the phasing out of farm subsidies, and the eventual elimination of the government-backed mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And he reserved particular ire for the Export-Import bank, which assists in financing the export of U.S. goods and services. Conceding that “only 1 in 1,000” have ever heard of it, Hensarling called on lawmakers to let its authorization expire in September.

“There is probably no better poster child of the Washington insider economy and corporate welfare than the Export-Import Bank,” he said. “I believe it is a defining issue for our party and our movement. The reauthorization debate clearly goes to the heart of the question: Which economy do we believe in?”

Hensnarling, who used to chair the House Republican Study Committee, a group of conservative GOP lawmakers, has repeatedly declined to say whether or not he’ll seek Boehner’s job one day. His speech Tuesday could foreshadow a battle between conservatives and House GOP leaders; Majority Leader Eric Cantor struck a deal with Democrats in 2012 to extend the bank’s charter, but is currently deferring to Hensarling, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee.

Supporters of the bank say it helps boost jobs, finances billions of dollars of export sales and helps thousands of small businesses. On its website, the Ex-Im bank says it has supported more than $567 billion of U.S. exports over its 80 years.

“The Export-Import Bank helps create jobs, expand manufacturing, and make our economy more competitive by helping American manufacturers access markets and sell their products not just at home but around the world,” Democratic House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said in a statement. “Congress must take action before the Export-Import Bank’s authorization expires… so that we can give certainty to businesses and provide important resources to keep American exporters competitive. To do otherwise would greatly hurt our economy.”

Boehner denied Tuesday that there’s a gulf between Tea Party conservatives and Republicans. “There is not that much, not that big a difference between what you call the Tea Party and your average conservative Republican,” Boehner told reporters. “We’re against Obamacare, we think taxes are too high, we think the government is too big. I wouldn’t continue to sing that same song.”

Hensarling sounded a different note seemingly aimed at pro-business Republicans.

“To support business does not necessarily support free enterprise,” he said during his speech.

And he again declined to say whether he’ll run for Speaker.

“It’s not something I’ve aspired to, it’s not something I’m thinking about, it’s not something I am working on, I see no reason whatsoever why it is in the interest of the Republican party or the conservative movement to really be thinking about leadership races,” Hensarling said. “Now, I haven’t been Shermanesque. Again, I’m not sure there is any opportunity I want to foreclose.”

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