Republicans wrangle over Ex-Im Bank, funding plan to move quickly

Reuters News
|
Posted: Sep 05, 2014 6:01 PM

By Emily Stephenson and David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Congress is expected to move quickly next week on a stop-gap funding measure to keep government agencies open into mid-December, but a plan to temporarily extend the U.S. Export-Import Bank's charter has proven more elusive.

Lawmakers return from a five-week summer recess on Monday. Their most pressing issue will be an extension of funding for the federal government, which is set to run out when the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.

House Republican aides said lawmakers could vote as early as next week to extend that funding at current levels.

They also anticipate a temporary reprieve for the embattled Export-Import Bank, whose charter expires on Sept. 30, that would keep it open for a few more months.

But House Republican leaders are locked in negotiations over the bank's fate with their party's conservative wing, led by House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling, who wants to see the 80-year-old institution expire.

No agreements have been reached on how to proceed, David Popp, a spokesman for the Texas Republican, said on Friday.

The bill to fund the government through the November midterm elections is must-pass legislation. The federal government shut down for 16 days in 2013, making Congress wildly unpopular with voters, and neither party wants another shutdown just before a critical election.

Negotiations over the Ex-Im Bank, which provides loans and loan guarantees to help U.S. businesses sell products overseas, will be tougher.

Hensarling and House conservatives say the bank represents government interference in free markets. They want to let the bank end when its charter expires.

Democrats and many Republicans who back the bank, however, say it supports middle-class jobs and keeps American manufacturing competitive with other countries.

"I know that many of us have concerns over the role of the taxpayer in being exposed and liable to a handful of major corporations," said Representative Robert Pittenger, a North Carolina Republican.

    "And then there are those ... who have strong commitments inside their districts who would like to see the preservation of this program," Pittenger said in a phone interview on Thursday.

Some aides have floated the possibility of attaching the Ex-Im Bank to the "continuing resolution", or CR, to fund the government, postponing the Ex-Im fight until after the midterms.

But others fear Ex-Im could put the "continuing resolution" funding measure in jeopardy. "A lot of people want a clean CR," said a Republican aide.

Congressional leaders have provided little insight into their strategy so far.

Democratic leaders in the Senate, where the trade finance agency's role is less controversial, say they will let the House take the lead. "We're hoping there won't be much drama," a Senate Democratic aide said on Friday.

Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy sent a memo to Republicans on Thursday, listing dozens of bills he hopes to pass in September. He did not mention the Ex-Im bank.

(Additional reporting by Krista Hughes; Editing by John Whitesides and Ken Wills)