The House voted 313-118 Tuesday to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, confirming what was suspected all along: This valuable trade tool has overwhelming support.
On a 64-29 vote in July, the Senate passed an amendment attaching reauthorization to a long-term transportation bill.
So why was the bank’s charter allowed to expire at the end of June? And why is the Senate resistant to a stand-alone measure offered Thursday by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., to reauthorize the charter through September 2019?
The answer is that congressional rules place a higher priority on party loyalty than bipartisan cooperation. This Congress isn’t unique in this regard, but a far-right caucus in the House has been able to leverage the rules for inordinate influence.
One of the restrictions is the “Hastert rule,” which is named for former Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert though Democrats have used the same tactic. Under the rule, no bill is brought to the floor unless it has support from a majority of the majority. That means if more than half of Republicans oppose, then the bill is shelved.
Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, chairs the House Financial Services Committee, and he doesn’t like the Ex-Im Bank. But he knew it would survive if put to a floor vote, so he imposed an even tighter test: the support of a majority of the Republicans on his committee. It didn’t have that.
But thanks to a rarely successful maneuver known as a discharge petition, enough House members rallied to dislodge the bill from committee. Once out, it passed easily. However, the story doesn’t end there. The House didn’t attach the reauthorization to the transportation bill, as the Senate did. So either the House needs to do so, or the Senate must pass a stand-alone bill.
On Thursday, Cantwell asked for unanimous consent to pass such a bill. However, the Senate has even more ways than the House to thwart the will of the majority, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is blocking her bid.
The American people should know that the gridlock and lack of bipartisan work in Congress isn’t just a function of competing parties. It’s by design. A far-right faction called the House Freedom Caucus has taken advantage of this by threatening to withhold support from the House speaker if he ever compromises with Democrats or the president.
The House finally passed the budget – heading off default and shutdown – only because Speaker John Boehner announced his resignation, and suspended the Hastert rule.
Other important issues, such as immigration reform and financing for the Highway Trust Fund, have also been caught in the web of rules that seek to enforce party discipline. The Senate easily passed an immigration reform bill, but the House Freedom Caucus stands in the way of its passage there.
Rep. Paul Ryan, elected speaker on Thursday, has vowed to fix a “broken” House. But to govern effectively, he needs the freedom to reach across the aisle from time to time.
Just ask John Boehner.
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