- Board vacancies mean bank can't back deals over $10 million
- Senate Banking Committee hasn't held hearing on Obama nominee
Though it appears the U.S. Export-Import Bank is back in business after Republican leaders in Congress tried to kill it, there’s another problem: the agency lacks enough board members to approve big loans.
Congress voted Thursday to revive the bank, as part of a highway-funding bill, after allowing its charter to lapse June 30. But the bank, which helps U.S. companies sell products overseas, still won’t be able to approve transactions valued at more than $10 million because three of the five spots on its board of directors are vacant.
That means companies like General Electric Co., Boeing Co. and Caterpillar Inc. that depend on the 81-year-old bank for larger loans and guarantees are out of luck until the Senate confirms a new board member.
“This has been a long battle and to really put the Ex-Im bank back in business we need to have the board in place,” Senator Dick Durbin, the chamber’s second-ranking Democrat, said in an interview at the Capitol. Durbin represents Illinois, home to the bank’s biggest beneficiary, Chicago-based Boeing, and Caterpillar, based in Peoria.
President Barack Obama nominated former Ex-Im board member Patricia Loui-Schmicker to a second term on the board in March, but the Senate Banking Committee has yet to hold a hearing on her nomination. The Senate panel is led by Senator Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican who opposes the bank.
“It’s a real hang-up” for the bank, said Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the top Democrat on the Banking Committee. “This committee has gone the entire year without one vote on one nominee, I don’t think any other committee in the Senate has done that.”
Lawmakers in the Senate and House overwhelmingly supported reviving the bank, but it was opposed by some Republican leaders including House Speaker Paul Ryan, who say it helps big companies that shouldn’t need government assistance. Some, critics like House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas, have described the bank as an example of “crony capitalism.”
After the bank’s charter expired five months ago, it couldn’t approve new applications for financial support, though it could continue work on existing agreements.
Supporters led by Republican Representative Stephen Fincher of Tennessee and Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland teamed up to force a House vote Oct. 27 that demonstrated majority support for reviving the bank. After that, reauthorization was added to the compromise $305 billion highway bill, H.R. 22.
Senate Democrats have repeatedly accused Republicans of dragging their feet on confirming Obama nominees, saying the delays leave many agencies unable to fully handle their work. Brown said he hopes Shelby will allow the committee to vote on filling the Ex-Im vacancies. He noted the panel also hasn’t voted to confirm Adam Szubin, the nominee for Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes, or on multiple positions at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
“The committee will consider the nomination at the appropriate time,” Torrie Matous, a Shelby spokeswoman, said in an e-mail responding to a question about whether the panel planned to recommend confirmation of Loui-Schmicker.
The Ex-Im board needs three members to have a quorum, and now it has two members: Chairman Fred Hochberg and Vice Chairwoman Wanda Felton. Obama nominated Loui-Schmicker for a third slot, and the remaining two positions are typically filled by Republicans. Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a bank opponent, declined to say whether the Kentucky Republican had recommended any people for those slots.
Hochberg has rejected arguments from Republicans that the bank is providing corporate welfare by financing foreign companies’ purchases of U.S. goods. Ex-Im returned $675 million to the U.S. Treasury for deficit reduction in 2014, Hochberg has said.
“The president strongly supports the Export-Import Bank and the work it does to level the playing field for our businesses as they compete abroad,” Brandi Hoffine, a White House spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. She said the White House is urging Congress to confirm people for the board of directors “so that the bank can get back to providing critical support to our businesses.”