- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 25, 2015

Many of the same centrist Republicans who complained about conservatives stabbing the GOP in the back on congressional procedures are behind the effort to circumvent their own leaders and force a vote on the divisive Export-Import Bank.

Forty-two Republicans — less than a fifth of the House GOP conference — joined 176 Democrats in signing a rarely used vehicle known as a discharge petition to bring the issue to the floor Monday, after GOP leadership allowed the agency to lapse June 30 despite financing the sale of U.S. goods overseas for decades.

Its vocal opponents say the bank handed out “corporate welfare” and shouldn’t be allowed to pick winners and losers in the free market.

So when a minority of GOP colleagues locked arms with Democrats to revive the bank, they were enraged. It was hypocritical, they said, for these Republicans to circumvent Speaker John A. Boehner after they’d repeatedly blasted the conservative House Freedom Caucus as rabble-rousers who upend leadership at critical times.

“Perhaps the rest of the House Republican Conference will finally wake up and discover that their problem isn’t those who are pushing them to stand up for conservative principles, but instead it is the handful of their Republican colleagues who regularly vote with the Democrats creating a center-left majority that feeds the corporate state,” said Rick Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government.

Rep. Charles W. Dent, Pennsylvania Republican and frequent critic of the Freedom Caucus, insisted the maneuver was in bounds and vastly different than the “chaos” that hard-line conservatives instigated in this year’s debate over homeland security funding, trade promotion authority and the resolution to disapprove of President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.

“Those of us in the governing wing of the party can also use leverage,” Mr. Dent said last week through a spokesman. “However, instead of using the leverage to cause chaos, we’ve exercised it on behalf of the American workers and companies that utilize financing from the Export-Import Bank to sell their products overseas.”

The debate is reinvigorating the fight over “regular order,” a legislative ideal in which bills are carefully vetted through committees before they wend their way to the floor.

While each faction of the GOP respects the concept, the Ex-Im push is opening a rift over what it really means and who stands ready to defend it.

Those pushing the petition say the more conservative members, who’ve demanded a greater voice in which bills make it to the floor, are sowing the type of dissension that actually makes it harder to methodically enact the party’s agenda ahead of an election year.

But leading conservatives say the Ex-Im push is a blatant attempt to sidestep, not follow, regular order and will lead the GOP down a treacherous path.

“We certainly respect our Republican colleagues, regardless of their stance on this one issue, and regret that at a time when our conference has already been divided that this discharge petition has divided us further,” House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling and Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, both Texas Republicans, said in a letter to colleagues Friday.

Rep. Stephen Lee Fincher, the Tennessee Republican who sponsored the petition, quickly retorted that he turned to the discharge petition after Mr. Hensarling refused to negotiate a deal in good faith.

“This is a Republican-led discharge petition that follows regular order and gives individual members a path forward when a committee fails to act,” Mr. Fincher said. “At a time when our conference is discussing ways to empower rank-and-file members, I find it ironic that some members would attack the discharge process, a process that acknowledges the voices of individual members.”

G. Terry Madonna, a politics professor at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, said the debate is an example of what he calls “situational politics,” in which the political process becomes intertwined with the substance of what’s being debated.

“Each is trying to gain the upper hand. It’s a struggle not just for control of Congress but for the heart and soul of the party,” he said.

The centrists’ Ex-Im push puts them at odds with Rep. Paul Ryan — a rising party star who opposes Ex-Im yet still drew vital support from the centrist Tuesday Group, of which Mr. Dent is co-chairman, to become the next speaker.

And it takes an end run around Mr. Boehner, who would have preferred the issue to be routed through committee, instead of seeing a faction of his conference allow House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer to bring an issue to the floor.

Even so, Mr. Dent said he doesn’t expect to face the type of intraparty blowback that’s stalked Freedom Caucus members such as Rep. Mark Meadows, the North Carolina Republican who briefly lost a subcommittee chairmanship after he opposed a leadership-sponsored rule for debating trade bills.

“Discipline the core group of Republican members who have repeatedly put up the tough governance votes that are absolutely necessary?” Mr. Dent said. “Are you kidding me? Good luck with that.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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