Washington — At 81, the venerable Export-Import Bank seems certain to expire June 30 due to intentional neglect, with Congress failing to act to keep it alive.
But the bank’s supporters are optimistic it will be brought back to life soon after — possibly before the August recess. Republican U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, of Lafayette, an enthusiastic booster of the export-support program, says the bank should win House and Senate approval if it comes up for votes.
Even a key opponent, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, of California, has said he expects the House will take up the measure to reauthorize the bank soon after it expires.
The bank provides loan guarantees, insurance and other means to help U.S. companies sell their products to foreign buyers, often in effect vouching for the customer so that the exporter can finance the deal. Supporters say it’s an important tool that helps U.S. businesses, large and small, compete with foreign companies whose own governments provide equivalent assistance to them. Opponents say it’s “crony capitalism” that disproportionately benefits giant corporations via a risky, taxpayer-backed scheme best left to the private sector.
The issue is among those that fall into a special category in Congress: It’s likely to win approval from the full House and the full Senate in floor votes, but because one or more of the gatekeepers empowered by congressional procedures opposes it, it may not ever make it to the floor.
The principal gatekeeper in this case is House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas. His committee has jurisdiction over the bank, and reauthorization legislation would go through the committee en route to the House floor. But Hensarling has not acted to take up the measure in the committee.
The opposition of McCarthy, who schedules floor action in the House from his No. 2 position in the ruling Republican hierarchy, does not help the bank’s prospects, nor does the resistance to reauthorization from House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., in the No. 3 post.
Opposition to the bank has emerged as something of a cause célèbre for the increasingly assertive populist movement within the Republican Party, which overlaps with the tea party faction.
In the House delegation from Louisiana, the only other opponent of the bank’s reauthorization besides Scalise is Republican John Fleming, of Minden, who is a founder of the House Freedom Caucus. The roughly 40 members of the caucus, which was organized this year to push the Republican majority further to the right, form a bastion of hostility to the bank.
But the bank is popular with Democrats and with a sizable number of Republicans in Congress, and they could combine to provide majority support for reauthorization in the House. That combination provided overwhelming 65-31 support for the bank in a recent test vote in the Senate.
The 31 “no” votes were all from Republicans, including both senators from Louisiana, Bill Cassidy and David Vitter (although Cassidy voted for the bank in 2012, when he was in the House).
Vitter, chairman of the Senate Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee, has suggested assigning some of the bank’s functions to the Small Business Administration.
The vehicle for the bank’s revival likely will be “must-pass” legislation — such as a transportation projects bill — that originates in the Senate and comes to the House for approval, with the reauthorization included as an amendment, Boustany said. Such a measure can be taken up directly on the House floor, bypassing the committee process.
The way likely will be made easier because of the support for the bank by the No. 1 Republican in the House: Speaker John Boehner, of Ohio.
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