WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican opposition to maintaining the nearly 80-year-old U.S. Export-Import Bank could soon force it to stop operations, dealing a blow to Boeing and other U.S. exporters, a Democratic lawmaker said on Thursday.
"I fear the future of the Eximbank is in doubt," Representative Jim McDermott, said in an speech to the Washington International Trade Association.
"We have to get the reauthorization done now, before the lights go out at the Eximbank in May."
The Washington Democrat told Reuters he still hoped a deal could be struck to renew the bank's charter before it expires on May 31. But that might be only another temporary extension to get the issue past the November presidential and congressional elections, he said.
"I can't believe (the Republicans are) as bad as it looks like they are right now. They have to come to their senses sometime soon," McDermott said.
The Eximbank provides direct loans and other credit assistance to help exporters make sales in markets considered too risky for private banks.
However, it is nearing its current $100 billion credit exposure cap and could have to stop issuing new loans or credit guarantees by May 1.
Boeing, which has major production facilities in McDermott's home state of Washington, is the bank's biggest customer and bank officials estimate their loan programs help support about 290,000 jobs annually in U.S. export industries.
The Obama administration and congressional Democrats want to renew the bank's charter for four years and raise its credit exposure cap to $140 billion.
However, a number of conservative Republicans have philosophical objections to Eximbank, which has its roots in the Depression-era Democratic administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
House Republican leaders have proposed renewing the bank's charter for one year and raising its cap to $113 billion, an approach Eximbank President Fred Hochberg has called inadequate.
In an opinion piece this week in Washington Examiner, Senator Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican, blasted the bank as an example of U.S. "corporate welfare".
He made the comment even though Boeing's production facility for its 787 Dreamliner is in South Carolina.
On Tuesday, Senate Republicans blocked an effort to force a vote on raising the bank's credit cap, even though a number said they favored renewing the bank's charter. Those include South Carolina's other senator, Lindsey Graham.
"I wish we didn't need an Ex-Im Bank. But other countries have far more aggressive financing regimes in place. The United States cannot and should not unilaterally disarm," Graham said in a statement.
An aide to the Republican House of Representatives leadership said Republicans were working with colleagues there and in the Senate to advance a bipartisan extension for the Export-Import Bank that included reforms and accountability measures.
McDermott described the Republican bill as a "rifle shot right at Boeing's head" because of provisions that he said would make it impossible for the aircraft manufacturer to use Eximbank's service.
He said House Republican Leader Eric Cantor has "carried the water for Delta," by crafting the bill to address the airline's concern that it is hurt by Eximbank financing to foreign competitors such as Air India.
(Reporting By Doug Palmer)