Ex-Im Bank's Future Depends on Senate After House Vote

  • House-passed bill goes to Senate where McConnell opposes it
  • Boeing and General Electric among Ex-Im's top beneficiaries

The U.S. Capitol is seen on Nov. 19, 2011, in Washington.

Photographer: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

The House voted to renew the U.S. Export-Import Bank in a bipartisan effort that sends the measure to the Senate, where it faces opposition from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The 313-118 House vote Tuesday would extend the bank’s charter through September 2019, allowing it to resume financing companies’ overseas sales.

The bank has divided Republican lawmakers, with some -- including House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas -- calling it corporate welfare for big companies that don’t need government assistance. Other Republicans say it helps U.S. businesses create jobs.

The Ex-Im Bank provides loans to overseas customers of U.S. companies such as Boeing Co. and General Electric Co. The 81-year-old institution’s charter expired June 30, and it has since been unable to approve new requests for financial assistance.

The Obama administration, which supports resuming bank operations, wants lawmakers to “move quickly to finish the job of sending Ex-Im reauthorization to the president’s desk for his signature, so it can get back to work,” said White House spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine.

McConnell of Kentucky said he won’t allow a stand-alone vote to revive the bank, though he left the door open to reauthorizing the bank as an amendment to a separate highway bill.

Highway Bill

“The way to achieve Ex-Im, if it’s going to be achieved in the Senate, is in the highway bill,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday at a press conference in the U.S. Capitol hours before the House vote.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said his party isn’t willing to wait for the highway bill to reauthorize the bank.

“The highway bill should stand or fall on its own merits,” Reid said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “‘We’re pleading with the Republicans to allow us to have a vote on this. We have Republicans who will vote with us and virtually every Democrat will vote for it.”

Ex-Im Chairman Fred 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.

Senate passage will be difficult even though a large majority in that chamber has already shown it backs the bill, said Representative Stephen Fincher, a Tennessee Republican who defied House leaders in his party and forced the vote to reauthorize the bank.

Tuesday’s vote was a loss for Hensarling, who had said he didn’t bring up the measure in his committee because most Republicans opposed it. As it turned out, 127 Republicans voted for the bill while 117 opposed it. Democrat Alan Grayson of Florida was the only member of his party to vote against the measure.

‘Crony Capitalism’

Hensarling defended his decision not to move the bill through his committee, saying in a statement, “On three separate occasions, a majority of Republicans on the Financial Services Committee said that they opposed bringing Ex-Im up for a vote.” Of the committee’s 33 Republican members, 22 voted against the measure Tuesday while 11 supported it.

Republican Paul Ryan, set to be elected House speaker on Thursday, denounced the bank as “crony capitalism” in a floor speech before the vote.

“I think there are plenty of other ways to expand opportunity in this country, and corporate welfare is not one of them,” said Ryan of Wisconsin.

House Republican Jim Jordan of Ohio, chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus, said in a statement after the vote, “This is what’s wrong with Washington: big corporations cozy up to big government and America’s taxpayers foot the bill."

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California also opposes the bank, while outgoing Speaker John Boehner of Ohio has said he worries the demise of Ex-Im will cause job losses.

Odd Couple

An odd-couple pairing of Fincher and Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the second-ranking House Democrat, out-maneuvered top House Republicans to force the vote to reauthorize the bank. The two used a rare procedure known as a discharge petition to bring the bill, H.R. 597, to the floor and bypass Hensarling’s committee.

In July, the Senate showed strong 64-29 support for the bank when McConnell allowed a vote to include a proposal to revive Ex-Im by North Dakota Democrat Heidi Heitkamp and Illinois Republican Mark Kirk to be added to a long-term highway funding package. The House didn’t take up the highway bill at the time, though lawmakers will be working on one in the coming weeks.

Hoyer told reporters that McConnell’s opposition to reauthorizing the bank came before Tuesday’s action in the House. “You now have a bill that was supported by 75 percent of the House,” he said.

QuickTake: U.S. Export-Import Bank

During the past few months, Fairfield, Connecticut-based GE has announced plans to shift hundreds of U.S. jobs to other countries, tying the decision to the lapse of the Ex-Im Bank.

GE said in a statement Tuesday, “We hope the House and Senate come together quickly and deliver this long-overdue legislation to the president’s desk so that our workers and suppliers can continue to build and sell American-made technology around the world.”

The fight over the bank’s future also has divided Republican-friendly organizations. The conservative Heritage Action for America opposes reopening the bank. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce fought to reauthorize it, saying in a statement that Tuesday’s vote showed that a “clear majority” in Congress backs the bank.

Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Boeing’s home state of Illinois, faulted the Financial Services panel for failing to resolve the dispute over the bank’s future.

“None of us celebrate being here right now as Republicans,” Kinzinger said on the House floor Monday during debate over the discharge petition. “The opponents of reauthorization live in a world where the politics of purity trumps the realism of today and of economics. Here is the reality: In my district, thousands of jobs, millions of dollars of exports and many, many people rely on this being reauthorized.”

‘More Teeth’

Heitkamp said the House vote “is going to be hard to ignore” because “we have very large majorities in both houses that are supportive of the Ex-Im bank.” 

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma said Monday that some Republicans in his chamber were weighing a new effort to reauthorize and revise the bank that would have “more teeth.”

If that plan succeeds, it could again delay or jeopardize the push to revive the bank because the House and Senate would need to work out a compromise between the two pieces of legislation.

That “would be a big, big mistake,” Heitkamp said. “Their time to make those arguments about a different bill has passed.”

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