WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans moved Tuesday to extend the authority of the Export-Import Bank this month as part of a government-wide funding bill needed to prevent a shutdown at month's end.
Republicans unveiled the measure, which would extend the bank's charter through June 30, 2015, late Tuesday. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, had telegraphed the move earlier in the day when he told reporters that even a powerful foe of the bank, Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, believed a temporary extension was in order.
The bank, which helps finance foreign purchases of U.S. exports, has badly divided Republicans, with many conservatives favoring letting its charter expire. But it has widespread support from Democrats and traditional pro-business Republicans. Democrats failed in an attempt to pressure GOP leaders into passing a long-term, five-year extension of the bank.
"I'm working with Chairman Hensarling. He thinks a temporary extension of the Export-Import Bank is in order," Boehner said.
A short-term renewal of the bank's charter would give lawmakers more time to try to forge consensus on whether to pass a long-term extension of the bank while overhauling its powers. Some Republicans said an extension into June would provide an even playing field for opponents and supporters of the bank to make their case.
Some bank supporters, however, feared opponents like Hensarling would gain leverage as the issue was considered on its own instead of in the context of a stopgap spending bill or some other must-pass legislation. And there's a good chance that Republicans will recapture the Senate, empowering skeptics of the bank.
The bank provides loans, credit insurance and loan guarantees to help foreign buyers purchase U.S. exports. It helped finance $37 billion in exports last year. Critics say it distorts markets and that too much of its help benefits large corporations like Boeing. Some U.S. businesses, including airlines, say the bank effectively subsidizes foreign competitors.
Hensarling, in a recent statement, said the bank provides "foreign corporate welfare that advantages a handful of powerful, politically-connected corporations."
Supporters of the bank say its financing of exports helps create jobs and that its help isn't limited to Fortune 500 corporations.
Rep. John Fleming, R-La., said he opposes reauthorizing the bank, but wants to avoid a potential government shutdown and so is open to the possibility of a short-term extension if the ultimate aim is to close the bank.
"I'm going to keep an open mind about it," Fleming said. "I think it's a good idea not to make it an election-year issue, but on the other hand I definitely oppose it, the reauthorization."