Senate Democrats plan to vote this month on legislation to reauthorize the U.S. Export-Import Bank, putting pressure on the Republican-led House to act on an issue backed by business groups.
“Eliminating the Export-Import Bank is virtually suicidal,” Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the Senate’s No. 3 Democrat, said today on a call with reporters. He said many small businesses depend on the lender, which provides financing to help foreign companies buy U.S. goods.
Passing a reauthorization of the Ex-Im bank, along with a bipartisan measure to change immigration policy that the Senate passed last year but House leaders this week declared dead in their chamber, lets Democrats portray themselves as supportive of business as November’s midterm elections draw closer.
Schumer said Republicans have moved away from supporting issues like changes to the nation’s immigration laws and extending tax breaks, as party leaders yield to “ideologues” in the small-government Tea Party movement. President Barack Obama yesterday said his administration would act alone on immigration because House Republicans won’t act.
Senate Democrats also cite legislation they could pass as soon as this month that would reauthorize the government’s financial backstop to provide insurance against damage from terrorist attacks as an example of a business-backed measure that they are pursuing. The House has its own version of that legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters last week that the bank’s reauthorization is “really important,” and that he hoped to have a vote before its Sept. 30 expiration.
Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia probably will introduce an Ex-Im bill later this month, Schumer said. The goal is to have a vote before Congress takes its annual recess in August. Passage by the Senate “will put pressure on the House,” where opposition to the bank is strong, he said.
Schumer criticized recent statements by House Republican leaders, who have said the lender should expire because the private sector can do the same job.
Those comments were “just the latest series of examples of our colleagues on the other side of the aisle opposing the clear interests of the small business community,” Schumer said.
Republicans led by Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas have said the lender mainly benefits large corporations -- like Boeing Co. (BA), General Electric Co. (GE) and Caterpillar Inc. (CAT) -- that don’t need support. Speaker John Boehner of Ohio has deferred to Hensarling’s Financial Services Committee, which oversees bank legislation.
Boehner yesterday criticized Obama for not working with Republicans on fixing immigration law.
Schumer was joined on the call today by fellow Democratic Senators Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Maria Cantwell of Washington state, as well as representatives of small businesses.
“We believe the case is absolutely stellar for moving this in July,” Heitkamp said.
Obama’s administration has proposed a five-year renewal with a gradual increase in its lending limit to $160 billion, from the current $140 billion. The House is considering at least two reauthorization bills for the bank.
Bank critics were emboldened last month when incoming House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, said he opposed the lender’s reauthorization because he said private banks can perform the same function.
While Hensarling and McCarthy oppose the bank’s renewal, other Republicans have said they are weighing restructuring to let the bank continue operations. Possible changes include revised accounting practices and stripping the bank of loan-making powers to focus on loan guarantees.
Cantwell said such proposals shouldn’t supersede the bank’s reauthorization.
“While we’re always happy to hear about reforms that people are interested in making, we don’t want it to be an excuse for them not to support the Export-Import Bank,” she said.
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