House readies vote to renew charter of Ex-Im Bank

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Export-Import Bank appeared headed for new life Wednesday in a House vote that culminates a struggle that has split Republicans between pro-bank business groups and anti-big government conservatives seeking to have it dismantled.

With strong Democratic support, the House was expected to approve legislation that extends the charter of the independent federal agency for three years and raises its lending cap from the current $100 billion to $140 billion. The bank is about to hit its lending cap, and its operating authority expires at the end of this month.

The bank, founded in 1934, has seen its charter renewed two dozen times without controversy or fanfare, but things are different in this highly political year. Reauthorization efforts stalled in the Senate in March over a partisan squabble, and faced an uncertain future in the House as Republicans were pressured by business allies who say the bank is crucial to export sales financing, and influential conservative organizations who argue it distorts markets and picks winners and losers.

The Club for Growth and Heritage Action for America declared that the Ex-Im Bank bill would be a "key vote," meaning that lawmaker votes would become part of the groups' scorecards determining their conservative credentials.

But business groups such as the U.S Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers lobbied on the bank's behalf, and appear to have prevailed. Last month 30 of the House's more conservative members wrote the GOP leadership calling for the bank's reauthorization, saying that, while in a perfect world such export financing might not be necessary, "it seems counterproductive to unilaterally disengage" when foreign governments are actively promoting overseas sales.

House passage, and likely Senate action before the end of the month, would give bipartisanship a rare victory at a time when Congress seems unable to come up with solutions to partisan battles over student loans, extension of the Violence Against Women Act and a long-term highway and infrastructure spending bill.

The House bill was crafted, after weeks of negotiations, by Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland.

It requires that the bank be more transparent in its dealings — a Republican demand — and requires the bank to show that its loans and loan guarantees are needed because the private sector would not undertake the risk or because of competition from foreign export credit agencies. It demands that all companies doing business with the bank certify that they do not do business with Iran.

The measure also responds to a dispute between Boeing Co., the bank's biggest beneficiary, and Delta Air Lines, which has claimed that it is losing business because of Ex-Im Bank loan assistance to foreign airlines buying new Boeing aircraft. It directs the Treasury secretary to initiate multilateral negotiations on reducing and eventually eliminating government export subsidies for aircraft.

After the compromise was announced last Friday, both Boeing and Delta came out with positive statements. Delta said that, if implemented appropriately, the revised bill "addresses Ex-Im's current, flawed policy of favoring foreign airlines over domestic airlines and their employees."

The Ex-Im Bank, which operates without taxpayer money. It financed about $11 billion worth of Boeing's large commercial sales. The bank says its financing, mostly in the form of loan guarantees but also in direct loans and credit insurance, supported 290,000 jobs, including 85,000 aerospace jobs.

The bank provides export financing support for about 2 percent of U.S. exports, well below the financial backing offered by other countries. China's export promotion agencies provide about 10 times the financing of the U.S. bank.

Democrats raised this point in chiding Republicans for their indecision on the bank. "As Republicans wring their hands in a stale ideological debate over whether to support American exports, China and other countries are significantly increasing their assistance to help their domestic companies compete abroad," said Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, which oversees trade.