House readies vote to renew charter of Ex-Im Bank

AP News
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Posted: May 09, 2012 1:41 AM
House readies vote to renew charter of Ex-Im Bank

The House is set to extend the life of the Export-Import Bank, an independent federal agency that has been a target for extinction by conservative groups who say its work is market-distorting.

The vote, expected Wednesday, comes after a senior House Republican and Democrat reached a compromise aimed at answering some criticisms of the bank and securing the votes of GOP conservatives being pressured to oppose reauthorization.

The Republican majority is bringing up the bill under a procedure requiring a two-thirds majority for passage, indicating confidence that the votes are there to send the bill to the Senate.

"Their leadership didn't have the votes to pass this bill so they needed us," said Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland, who negotiated the compromise with Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. "I think the Democrats will be overwhelmingly for it."

The current charter for the bank, founded in 1934, expires at the end of this month, and business groups, which use the bank as a source of financing for export sales, have pressed Congress to renew it. The bank is also heading toward reaching its lending cap of $100 billion in the next few weeks.

The deal reached by Cantor and Hoyer would renew the bank's charter for three years and gradually raise its lending cap to $140 billion.

It also requires the bank to justify its loans and loan guarantees, showing they are needed because the private sector would not undertake the risk or to meet competition from foreign export credit agencies. It demands that all companies doing business with the bank certify that they do not do business with Iran.

The measure also responds to a dispute between Boeing Co., the bank's biggest beneficiary, and Delta Air Lines, which has claimed that Ex-Im assistance for foreign airlines seeking to buy new Boeing aircraft has worked to the detriment of Delta.

It directs the treasury secretary to initiate multilateral negotiations on reducing and eventually eliminating government export subsidies for aircraft.

After the compromise was announced last Friday, both Boeing and Delta came out with positive statements. Delta said that, if implemented appropriately, the revised bill "addresses Ex-Im's current, flawed policy of favoring foreign airlines over domestic airlines and their employees."

The Ex-Im Bank provided $32 billion in financing last year, with $6 billion of that, or 87 percent of all transactions, going to small businesses or their foreign customers that often have trouble obtaining private credit to complete sales abroad. The bank also financed about $11 billion worth of Boeing's large commercial sales. That bank says its financing, mostly in the form of loan guarantees but also in direct loans and credit insurance, supported 290,000 jobs, including 85,000 aerospace jobs.

The bank operates through fees and interest charges and does not receive money from the government.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid indicated Tuesday he was amenable to taking up the bill if it passes the House. Last month, Reid tried to attach to an unrelated bill an Ex-Im amendment that extended authorization for four years and raised the lending cap to $140 billion. Republicans blocked him, saying they wanted more opportunity to change the bill, and the Ex-Im bank issue appeared headed for deadlock. Reid said he was reluctant to bring up a separate Ex-Im bill because he thought it would die in the House.

Cantor had originally proposed a more restrictive Ex-Im Bank extension, and even that appeared headed for a tough time in the House because of conservative opposition.

Conservative groups such as the Club for Growth and Heritage Action for America have called for the bank to be eliminated, saying it picks winners and losers and distorts markets. They told lawmakers that their vote would be recorded on the groups' scorecards that rate how faithful members of Congress are to conservative causes. "Whatever its original intent may have been," said the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, "today Ex-Im Bank is an obvious example of corporate welfare, transferring wealth from all Americans for the benefit of politically connected corporations."

But in late April, 30 House conservatives, siding with business supporters of the bank, wrote the Republican leadership urging reauthorization, saying that while such export financing might not be needed in a perfect world, "it seems counterproductive to unilaterally disengage" when other countries are far more active in promoting foreign sales.