Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Republicans Have a Choice: Their Donors, Their Right-Wingers, or a Government Shutdown
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Republicans Have a Choice: Their Donors, Their Right-Wingers, or a Government Shutdown

By Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

It looks like the one big(gish) substantive consequence of Eric Cantor's exit from the House Republican leadership will be the demise of the Export-Import bank. Or at least it looks very likely that John Boehner (who supports the Export-Import bank) will allow its authorization to lapse rather than pick a fight with conservative hardliners in the House.

The fact that the bank's authorization expires on the same day that federal appropriations expire has analysts wondering whether it will end up at the center of a tug-of-war over funding the government, precipitating a shutdown. And that, in turn, has conservatives salivating over the prospect of "Democrats shut[ting] down the government" to protect corporate welfare.

First, allow me to disclose that I really don't care very much what happens to the Export-Import bank, which subsidizes U.S. exports with loans and loan guarantees to insure against non-payment by importers. I guess the one convincing argument for reauthorizing it temporarily, or reforming and reauthorizing it, is that it probably is providing a modest boost to the economy at the moment, but generally liberals and hardline conservatives agree, for slightly different reasons, that the bank should go. Establishment Republicans, by contrast, really like the Ex-Im bank, which explains why Democrats are happy to set aside whatever misgivings they might have about it in order to exploit the division within the Republican conference.

That division is also why any talk of Democrats shutting down the government to protect Ex-Im is basically dishonest spin.

I think there's almost no chance anyone will shut down the government over the Ex-Im bank, but if a shutdown happens, it will come as a consequence of Boehner wimping out, not of anything Democrats might do.

To my mind, there are at least four ways a fight over Ex-Im could play out within a fight over funding the government. Half of them end with the elimination of the Ex-Im bank. Only one ends with a government shutdown, and it would be on House Republicans.

I've simplified the processes involved here, for the sake of clarity, but in order of escalating complexity, the scenarios are as follows:

1. The House passes a bill to fund the government and sends it to the Senate, where Republicans successfully filibuster any attempt to reauthorize the Ex-Im bank. Harry Reid caves. Result: Ex-Im bank eliminated.

2. The House passes a bill to fund the government and sends it to the Senate where Democrats and Republicans tweak it to reauthorize the Ex-Im bank, among other things. It goes back to the House, where Boehner "caves" and puts it on the floor. Result: Ex-Im bank survives.

2a. The House passes a bill to fund the government and sends it to the Senate where Democrats and Republicans amend it to reauthorize the Ex-Im bank. It goes back to the House, where Boehner allows a vote on a measure to strip the Ex-Im authorization out of the legislation, but the measure fails thanks to the support of an overwhelming number of Democrats and a large contingent of Republicans. Result: Ex-Im bank survives, Republicans crow disingenuously about how Democrats are the real crony-capitalists.

3. The House passes a bill to fund the government and sends it to the Senate where Democrats and Republicans amend it to reauthorize the Ex-Im bank. It goes back to the House, where Boehner can neither muster the nerve to affirmatively strip the authorization (and anger donors) nor the nerve to put the whole bill on the floor (and anger conservatives). So he does nothing. Result: Boehner shuts down the government, Ex-Im bank in limbo.

4. The House passes a bill to fund the government and sends it to the Senate where Democrats and Republicans amend it to reauthorize the Ex-Im bank. It goes back to the House, where Boehner chooses his speakership over his big business allies, and rounds up Republican votes to strip the authorization out of the bill. The House sends the bill back to the Senate where Reid caves. Result: Ex-Im bank eliminated.

Note, I have baked into these scenarios an assumption that Senate Democrats won't refuse to fund the government unless the Ex-Im bank survives because most Democrats a) Don't really care that much about the bank, b) are mainly just interested in exploiting Republican divisions, c) want to make a point to conservative big business donors about the incredibly bad investment they've made in House Republicans, and d) aren't an inherently reactionary bunch like their counterparts in the House GOP.

For what it's worth, I think option 2a is the kabuki show we're most likely to see. I think the GOP leadership's overweening interest in not shutting down the government will carry here, which means scenario 3 is the least likely. But either way, Boehner and Mitch McConnell will have to make some fairly consequential decisions in the next few months.

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