Supporters in Congress Plan to Revive Export-Import Bank With Highway Bill

WASHINGTON (Los Angeles Times/TNS) -

House Republican leaders succeeded last month in their quest to shut down a federal agency that helps U.S. companies sell their goods overseas, but a majority in Congress may soon have the last word.

A path to reviving the Export-Import Bank has emerged in Congress, and the agency, which has the strong backing of business groups, could be providing assistance again within weeks.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he would allow bank advocates to include a five-year reauthorization of the agency on a highway funding bill that must pass by the end of the month.

And there’s enough support from Democrats and Republicans that such an amendment would pass, even if a leading conservative, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, mounts a promised filibuster.

“The longer we wait on Ex-Im reauthorization, the further American manufacturers fall behind the eight ball in the global economy,” said Linda Dempsey, vice president for international economic affairs at the National Association of Manufacturers.

The Obama administration and majorities in the Senate and House want to keep the bank operating, noting that dozens of other countries have similar agencies that help their companies compete against U.S. firms.

The bank provided $20.5 billion in loans and other assistance last year to finance $27.5 billion worth of U.S. exports. No government money is used to fund the bank; it gets its money from interest and fees and sent $675 million in profits to the U.S. Treasury last year.

Strong opposition from some House leaders last month prevented a vote on extending the bank’s charter before it expired June 30.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and other conservatives have called the bank’s aid corporate welfare. They say that large corporations, particularly Boeing Co., are the main beneficiaries, and note that the government is on the hook for any losses the bank can’t cover on about $122 billion in outstanding assistance.

“The taxpayers are risking their dollars in order to benefit foreign countries and to benefit giant corporations,” Cruz said last week.

But attaching a reauthorization to the highway bill could overcome that opposition.

“We have the recipe to get this reauthorization passed: broad bipartisan support in both chambers and a legislative vehicle to bring Ex-Im to a vote,” Dempsey said. “What we need now is for Congress to put politics aside and get to work on this important issue.”