Several dozen Republicans teamed up with Democrats Friday to assure a House vote on reviving the U.S. Export-Import Bank, giving the effort to save the bank new life more than three months after its charter lapsed.
The development came as bank supporters got a majority of the House to sign a petition to dislodge a measure to revive it from a powerful panel controlled by a bank opponent. The bank helps finance sales of U.S. exports to foreign customers.
The bank's charter expired June 30, and it has been unable to approve new applications to help overseas buyers get financing to purchase U.S. products like airplanes and heavy equipment. Supporters say the bank helps sustain tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs.
Bank supporters have been stymied by opposition from tea party Republicans, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and top GOP leaders like Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
Such "discharge petition" efforts are rarely successful and are routinely discouraged by House leaders. But outgoing Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who supports continuing the bank, made little if any effort to quash the petition drive once Hensaring made clear he would not advance legislation to renew the bank through his committee without more support from Republicans.
"The Export-Import Bank plays a key role in protecting and growing American jobs by helping U.S. businesses compete on a level playing field with our foreign competitors," said Rep. Bob Dold, R-Ill., who signed the petition.
Republicans supporting the bank lined up on the House floor early Friday morning to sign on, said Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., who help organize the effort. Democrats put it over the top during a series of votes early Friday afternoon, prompting a loud cheer that could be heard in the halls outside the chamber.
The 39 Republicans who signed the petition were mostly party loyalists but were frustrated with Hensarling.
"We know leverage when we have it," said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa. "We have leverage right now. And we intend to exercise it."
A statement from Hensarling emailed after bank backers had already obtained enough signatures warned Republican colleagues that the fight would further inflame tensions inside the GOP and set a bad precedent in which a small minority of lawmakers could wrest control of the agenda from party leaders.
"At a time when our Republican Conference is divided, this will divide it even further," he said.
"Signing a discharge petition -- regardless of the issue -- gives the Democrats control over our agenda." Hensarling that a majority of Republicans on the financial services panel oppose the bank.
Conservative critics say the bank provides too much of its credit assistance to help huge, well-connected corporations like The Boeing Company and General Electric. They say the bank finances just a minute fraction of U.S. exports and that alternative financing options are available. Several companies have announced they have lost business because of the lapse in bank operations and are threatening to shutter plants if it isn't revived.
The Senate voted 64-29 this summer for an amendment to an unrelated bill renewing the bank. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, however, opposes the bank even though he facilitated this summer's vote.
McConnell's office has made clear that he won't bring up the House bill to give it a stand-alone vote that would send it to President Barack Obama. And any effort to try to get it through by attaching the bill to unrelated, must-pass legislation would require the assent of McConnell and House GOP leaders.
Traditional Republican-friendly groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers are still struggling for a way to renew the bank, despite wide bipartisan support in both House and Senate. Prospects aren't helped by the looming departure of Boehner at the end of the month.
The last time a discharge petition drive was successful was on campaign finance 2001 legislation.