Ex-Im Bank Supporters Gain Signatures to Force House Vote

  • Bank hasn't been able to approve new loans since June 30
  • Lawmakers signed petition to bring bill to House floor

U.S. House members gathered enough signatures Friday to force a floor vote to revive the Export-Import Bank over objections from some Republican leaders.

“This is a Republican bill,” said Tennessee Republican Stephen Fincher, who led the unusual bid to require a floor vote. “It shows we can get something done if we put the country over ideology."

Signing of the petition began Friday, and it gained 218 signatures, enough to require a House vote, by about 1 p.m. Washington time.

The Ex-Im Bank provides loans and other support to overseas customers of U.S. companies such as Boeing Co. and General Electric Co. The 81-year-old institution’s charter expired on June 30. The bank has divided Republican lawmakers, with some calling it corporate welfare and other saying it helps U.S. businesses create jobs.

White House spokeswoman Jen Friedman said, "While it is up to Congress to determine the best path to fully restore Ex-Im’s ability to support American workers and businesses, today’s action is an important step forward."

Government Assistance

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas opposes the bank and had refused to push legislation reauthorizing it through his committee. Hensarling and other Republicans who oppose the bank say it mostly helps big corporations that don’t need government assistance.

"Ex-Im supporters have so far failed to convince a majority of Republicans on the Financial Services Committee to support a vote on reauthorizing the bank," Hensarling said in a statement Friday. "I hope all Republicans, regardless of their stand on this one issue, will recognize that signing a discharge petition sets a very serious, very dangerous precedent for our Republican majority."

Fincher rejected as "baloney" arguments from conservatives that the Ex-Im Bank represents corporate welfare and crony capitalism. "It doesn’t cost the taxpayers a dime," he said.

Asked why many Republicans are against it, he said, "I think they have chosen their political scorecards over their districts."

Among Republican members of Hensarling’s committee, Fincher signed the petition along with Frank Lucas of Oklahoma and Steve Stivers of Ohio.

Leadership Divided

Republican House leadership is divided. Outgoing Speaker John Boehner of Ohio has said he worries the demise of Ex-Im will cause job losses, as some companies have already signaled, while Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California has called for an end to the institution. McCarthy on Thursday dropped his bid to succeed Boehner as speaker.

Fincher is employing a rarely used procedural maneuver known as a discharge petition to force the chamber to vote on a bill that would reauthorize the bank through September 2019. With signatures of at least 218 House members, the measure can bypass the committee process typically used to advance legislation to a vote. The House would be able to vote on the measure later this month.

Should the House opt to renew the bank, the Senate would then have the final say. Opponents of the bank are counting on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to block a Senate vote even if Fincher prevails.

McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who has said he’s opposed to the bank, doesn’t plan to allow a vote on separate legislation to reauthorize Ex-Im, his spokesman Don Stewart said in an e-mail Tuesday. Stewart said McConnell doesn’t want to waste the time required to get the bill through all the procedural hurdles that would come before a vote.

"The leader has no plans to spend a week or more on this bill he doesn’t support," Stewart said. That doesn’t mean the Senate wouldn’t consider language to reauthorize the bank if it were done as part of another measure -- the Republican-controlled Senate overwhelmingly voted in July to amend a long-term highway funding measure to include language to revive Ex-Im. That effort went nowhere when the House left for an August recess without voting on that bill.

Republican Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois, sponsor of a Senate bill to revive the bank, said in a statement, “We cannot continue to shed jobs overseas due to partisan bickering and congressional inaction.”

“The Senate has already passed the Kirk-Heitkamp Ex-Im bill with 64 votes" in the 100-member chamber, Kirk said.

Representative Maxine Waters of California, the top Democrat on the Financial Services panel, said she is confident that McConnell will allow a vote, given the message provided by the unusual successful discharge petition and the prior Senate vote on Ex-Im.

"We had a lot of things to overcome," said Waters, who provided the 218th signature on the petition. "And I have to tell you that the chairman of our committee was determined that this bank would not be reauthorized."

Jobs Moved

Ex-Im has been unable to approve new requests for financial assistance after its charter expired June 30. Since then, Fairfield, Connecticut-based GE has announced plans to shift hundreds of U.S. jobs to other countries, and directly tied the decision to the lapse of Ex-Im.

Boeing, Ex-Im’s biggest beneficiary, may also lose business due to the lapse in the bank’s charter. South Africa’s Comair Ltd. said in a Sept. 28 letter to Chicago-based Boeing that it may have to drop $1.1 billion in jet deliveries due to begin in October after struggling to line up financing without U.S. government assistance.

Even so, it’s by no means a done deal. Ex-Im advocates will encounter resistance from conservative groups opposed to the bank like Americans for Prosperity, whose spokesman Levi Russell said it will track any vote that "includes bringing Ex-Im back from the dead." The group’s president Tim Phillips has said there will be consequences for lawmakers who vote to save the bank.

The second-ranking House Democrat, Steny Hoyer of Maryland, said at a news conference that he he was pleased the petition had enough signatures to require a vote.

"If we didn’t do this, it would have been unilateral disarmament" in sales of U.S. goods abroad, said "It would have said to the rest of the world, ‘You’re going to be able to compete and we won’t.’"

U.S. Representative John Carter, a Texas Republican, said this week he won’t back Fincher’s move and thought most Republicans won’t sign the petition out of respect for leadership.

"I’m old school," Carter said in an interview. "I learned early on you just don’t do that."

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