TIME Congress

GOP Leaders Yield to Base on Killing Obscure Government Bank

SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE JOHN BOEHNER IN WASHINGTON, D.C.
Speaker of the House John Boehner speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill, in Washington, on June 19, 2014 Kevin Dietsch—UPI/Landov

A victory for conservatives

House Speaker John Boehner signaled Tuesday that he’s willing to let lawmakers kill an obscure government bank, in a victory for conservatives who feared that last week’s election of new GOP leadership would make it harder to eliminate.

“My job is to work with our members to get to a place where the members are comfortable,” Boehner, speaking at a news conference in Washington, said of the debate over Export-Import bank. “Some people believe that we shouldn’t have it at all, others believe that we should reauthorize it with significant reforms, and we’re going to work our way through this.”

The bank, supported by the White House, the Democratic-controlled Senate, the business community and at least 41 House Republicans, provides loans, loan guarantees and credit insurance to help foreigners purchase U.S. goods. Its supporters credit it with supporting about205,000 American jobs, while opponents say it could easily be replaced by the private sector. Congress must renew the Ex-Im bank’s charter by Sept. 30 or it will be unable to back new loans.

When asked if he believes the so-called the Ex-Im bank has an impact on the economy, Boehner responded: “I don’t know.”

Tuesday’s comments mark a turn around for Boehner, who said the bank “will help create jobs in our country” when its charter was reauthorized two years ago. But on Tuesday, Boehner yielded authority on the issue to the House Financial Committee, chaired by Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, an outspoken critic of the Ex-Im Bank. Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), who chaired the committee through 2012, supported the bank, albeit with some reforms.

Boehner’s acquiescence will be taken as a welcome sign for his conservative rank-and-file, who feared the election last week of establishment-friendly Rep. Kevin McCarthy as the new House Majority Leader would block them from what’s become a top policy priority. But McCarthy said Sunday that he opposes reauthorizing the bank’s charter, and Boehner said Tuesday that Hensarling would have a key role in “outlining” the future of the bank.

“The members have been discussing this issue,” Boehner said. “I believe there’s a hearing tomorrow in the Financial Services committee. And after that, I’m looking forward to the chairman outlining how we’re going to deal with this rather controversial subject.”

Despite GOP leaders’ recent statements, the bank’s charter could still be renewed if coalition of House Democrats and Republicans pass the Senate’s end-of-year spending resolution, which will include reauthorization.

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