Business Groups Rally Behind Senate Measure to Renew Ex-Im Bank

Jul 31, 2014 12:43 pm ET

July 31 (Bloomberg) -- Business groups rallied behind a bipartisan Senate bill to reauthorize the U.S. Export-Import Bank for five years and give Congress more oversight, putting pressure on House Republicans who want to shut the bank.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable are among groups urging passage of the Senate measure introduced yesterday by Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Mark Kirk of Illinois.

“Let’s have the Senate act, go out with a big vote, and then let’s go to work on the House,” John Engler, president of the Roundtable, a group for chief executives of the largest U.S. companies, said today at a breakfast with Bloomberg News editors and reporters in Washington.

Debate on the bill will begin in September when the Senate returns from a five-week recess, Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said today, leaving lawmakers about a month before the bank’s financing authority expires. The 80-year-old agency is the target of Republicans, including House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas, who say it supports large corporations like Boeing Co. and General Electric Co. that don’t need aid.

The Export-Import Bank provides loan guarantees, loans and insurance to help foreign companies buy U.S. goods.

“We applaud the Senate introduction today of strong bipartisan legislation,” Myron Brilliant, executive vice president and head of international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said yesterday in a statement.

The lender gained support yesterday as some opponents said they would consider renewing the agency.

House Action

In the House, Republicans led by Stephen Fincher of Tennessee, who opposed reauthorization in 2012, plan to introduce a bill that would renew the Ex-Im Bank, while mandating changes in business practices. Congress, which begins a recess tomorrow, will be in session for 10 days before the charter lapses.

“It’s unreasonable to think that the bank is just going to end Sept. 30,” Fincher, a member of the House Financial Services Committee that is debating the bank’s renewal, said in an interview.

Incoming House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican and member of the financial services panel, made clear last month he wanted to let the bank’s charter lapse. Yesterday, he wasn’t so adamant.

Businesses Lobby

Asked in an interview whether he might back a plan to alter the bank’s business practices, he said, “The best part is, we’re working through committee. And I’d love to see a bill come out of the committee.”

The Chamber, the nation’s largest lobbying group for businesses, is working with the Business Roundtable and the National Association of Manufacturers for reauthorization.

The Roundtable is going to push “very hard” for the Senate bill, said Engler, who said he expects a similar measure to emerge in the House soon. “I think there’s a lot of support in the House, regardless of McCarthy’s position,” he said.

The Manchin bill is in line with what President Barack Obama said he wants: a five-year reauthorization, with a gradual increase of its lending limit to $160 billion from $140 billion.

Reid Criticism

“We need to find a way forward on this,” Reid said on the Senate floor today. The “no-government crowd” of Republicans mostly in the House were making that difficult. “It would be a shame if we weren’t able to renew this,” he said.

Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee who has called for the elimination of a bank he criticized as “crony capitalism,” yesterday said he would consider reauthorizing it with changes to its charter.

“Could the thing be reformed? Of course,” Ryan of Wisconsin said at a media breakfast in Washington hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. Still, he said, “there are so many more things we should be dedicating taxpayer resources to than handing it out to some select companies.”

Speaker John Boehner of Ohio hasn’t said how he’ll vote on the bank, which provides financing for foreign companies to buy U.S. goods.

Fincher said he and a number of House Republicans, who he declined to name, are winnowing a list of about 60 proposed changes to 20 or 25. The bank would have a five-year reauthorization and a limit on lending higher than $95 billion and lower than the current $140 billion. The exact level hasn’t been determined, he said.

Small Business

Other potential changes being considered are the inclusion of an independent auditor for aircraft financing, a provision that would let qualified commercial lenders support small- business lending and changes to the bank’s accounting practices, Fincher said. He said his group is trying to increase participation for small businesses in a way that doesn’t squeeze out the bank’s assistance for larger corporations, such as Boeing, that receive the bulk of the lender’s financial support.

“As conservative Republicans, we don’t want to disincentivize growth,” Fincher said. “We think there’s room for everybody.”

About 89 percent of the Export-Import Bank’s 3,842 deals during the past fiscal year benefited small businesses, according the lender’s annual report on $27.3 billion in financing. Of long-term loan guarantees, 65 percent involved sales of Boeing aircraft, according to a June 3 report by the independent Congressional Research Service.

Wind Down

Jeff Emerson, a spokesman for Hensarling on the financial services committee, said in an e-mail yesterday that the chairman still wants to let the bank’s authorization expire on schedule. “That would allow for an orderly wind down of Ex- Im,” he said.

Other conservatives are skeptical of changing the bank.

“The same people who have been talking about reforms for a while continue to” do so, said Dan Holler, a spokesman for Heritage Action for America. He said the Washington-based limited government group continues to oppose the bank’s renewal in part because it provides unnecessary support for large corporations.

The Manchin-Kirk measure would require the bank to provide Congress with reports on its business plan, including its efforts to support small-business exports, and it limits the lender’s exposure to loan defaults.

Manchin, from a coal-producing state, plans to introduce an amendment related to coal, the senators said in a statement. The Ex-Im Bank last year said it would no longer back financing for most overseas coal plants out of concern for carbon pollution.

Coal Technology

“All we’re talking about truly is using the best technology that we have developed and available in the United States of America to any project of the Ex-Im Bank,” Manchin said today in an interview. “They are going to build 1,200 coal-fired plants around the world,” and U.S. technology should be part of those efforts, he said.

Justin Guay, an anti-coal activist with the Sierra Club, said Manchin’s effort to amend the measure requires an agreement to consider the amendment then round up enough votes, both of which are unlikely, Guay said.

Manchin had been discussing a measure that would have allowed coal-turbine and related technology financing to more lower-income nations, such as India and Vietnam, and wasn’t limited to carbon-capture technology, Guay said.

A senator from a state with a large number of Boeing workers, South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, said, “I’m 100 percent for reauthorization for five years.”

“I’m for straight-up reauthorization, and I don’t mind reforms as long as they don’t gut the program,” Graham said. “If you could construct a world where nobody had an Ex-Im Bank, count me in. But our competitor nations all have Ex-Im banks.”

--With assistance from Michael C. Bender, Kathleen Hunter, Cheyenne Hopkins and Mark Drajem in Washington.