One of the classic lines from the 1990 novel and 1993 movie Jurassic Park is that “life finds a way.” As with dinosaurs, so with government programs. The Export-Import Bank expired on June 30, and has been in liquidation ever since. But Ex-Im’s supporters may have found a way to bring it back to life. Just as frog DNA implanted in Jurassic Park’s all-female cloned dinosaurs allowed them to reproduce by causing some of them to switch genders, Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.), who once opposed Ex-Im, has found a way to get Ex-Im past its own obstacles in the House: a discharge petition.
In the House of Representatives, a bill must typically be approved by a Committee before it moves to a full floor vote before all 435 members. A successful discharge petition circumvents Committees and brings a bill straight to a floor vote, but it is rarely used. The last time a discharge petition succeeded was in 2002—ironically, in Fincher’s case, for the McCain-Feingold campaign finance regulation bill.
Fincher’s re-election campaign has received about 150 donations totaling a little more than $250,000, as of the most recent campaign finance disclosures. Two of those donations come from his home state of Tennessee, totaling $750. As journalist Tim Carney puts it, this “rounds to 0 percent of his money raised.” In total, “More than 99 percent of the money powering Fincher's re-election bid comes from political action committees (almost all of them corporate PACs) and K Street lobbyist types.” Among those corporate PACs are all of Ex-Im’s biggest beneficiaries, including Boeing, General Electric, and other large firms.
This does not make Rep. Fincher unique. It merely makes him conventional. But so far, his decidedly unconventional political strategy is working. Fincher’s Ex-Im revival bill is being held in purgatory in the House Financial Services Committee, where Chairman Jeb Hensarling is one of Ex-Im’s strongest opponents. Since Hensarling has no intention of moving on Fincher’s bill, Fincher countered with a discharge petition. Nearly all House Democrats joined about 40 Republicans in signing it, giving Fincher the 218 signatures he needs to force a floor vote (here’s the full signatory list from October 9).
Under House rules, the soonest a floor vote can happen is October 26. Then, assuming it passes, Fincher’s Ex-Im bill moves to the Senate.
Since the bill is unlikely to pass the Senate, Fincher’s gambit may not matter too much in the end. But it is appearing likely that an Ex-Im revival will be folded into an upcoming must-pass transportation bill. That opens up a whole new set of negotiations, but Fincher’s cronyist quest may well succeed, even if its path is long and indirect.
Dinosaurs were around for nearly 200 million years. So long as people like Rep. Fincher are in Congress, government agencies can expect similar longevity.