By Mark Felsenthal and Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Business backers of the U.S. Export-Import Bank said on Wednesday they hope the institution's charter will be extended temporarily while Congress hashes out a longer-term reauthorization of the bank, which some lawmakers are bent on closing.
Supporters said the bank's charter, which expires Sept. 30, could receive a short-term extension as part of a stop-gap government funding measure that lawmakers must pass before the end of the fiscal year.
"We still have our fingers crossed that we might be able to get votes in both the House and Senate, but... more likely it will be a process that's going to extend," said John Hardy, president of the Coalition for Employment through Exports, a trade association that supports U.S. export agencies. "It's not unusual, particularly these days, that a bill that has been as contentious as this one has required these sorts of extensions."
Since Congress is in session for only part of September, a short-term extension could give lawmakers more time - perhaps two or three months - to negotiate a reauthorization bill that could pass both houses of Congress and be signed into law by the president, Hardy told reporters on a conference call.
One bill to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank has been introduced in the Democratic-controlled Senate while two other measures are being developed in the Republican-run House of Representatives.
The bank, which provides loans to buyers of U.S. exports, has become a political flashpoint as conservative Republicans have singled it out as a government program that should not be renewed. Big beneficiaries of the bank are household names such as Boeing Co, Caterpillar Inc and General Electric Co. The institution's detractors say the bank subsidizes big companies that don't need the help and puts taxpayers at risk.
The Ex-Im Bank's charter renewal is in doubt despite backing from major business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Influential lawmakers such as new House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling - both Republicans - have said they favor letting the bank's charter expire.
Representative Stephen Fincher, a Tennessee Republican, told reporters in July that he was working on a bill to reform the bank. A spokeswoman for Fincher said recently that he hoped to introduce his legislation soon after Congress returns in September, but she could not predict the exact timing.
The spokeswoman, Elizabeth Lauten, said Fincher had spent much of August meeting other members of Congress, outside groups and businesses to discuss what would be the best reforms to the bank to make it "more transparent, more accountable, and help create more jobs."
Jay Henderson, an official with the Coalition for Employment through Exports, said the group is trying to draw attention to businesses that benefit from the bank in regions of the country where lawmakers oppose renewing the charter. Target regions have included Indiana, North and South Carolina, and Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Florida, he said.