WASHINGTON – The House voted Wednesday to extend the life of the Export-Import Bank, culminating a struggle that has split Republicans between pro-bank business groups and anti-big government conservatives seeking to have it dismantled.
In the end, most Republicans joined Democrats in backing the bank, a source of financing for American companies, ranging from small businesses to giants such as Boeing, trying to sell goods overseas.
The measure reauthorizes the independent, self-financing federal agency for three years and raises its lending cap from the current $100 billion to $140 billion. The bank is about to hit its lending cap, and its operating authority expires at the end of this month. The Senate is expected to take it up before then.
The bank, founded in 1934, has seen its charter renewed two dozen times without controversy or fanfare, but things were different in this highly political year. Reauthorization efforts stalled in the Senate in March over a partisan squabble, and faced an uncertain future in the House as Republicans were pressured by business allies who say the bank is crucial to export sales financing, and influential conservative organizations who argue it distorts markets and picks winners and losers.
The Club for Growth and Heritage Action for America declared that the Ex-Im Bank bill would be a "key vote," meaning that lawmaker votes would become part of the groups' scorecards determining their conservative credentials.
But business groups such as the U.S Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers lobbied on the bank's behalf, and their efforts prevailed among most House Republicans.
Some would suggest, said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who negotiated the bipartisan bill with Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland, "that we should just shutter the Export-Import Bank right now, that we shouldn't pass the bill. But I would tell my colleagues that I believe that amounts to unilateral disarmament. American businesses and American workers would suffer from unfair competition with subsidized foreign competitors."
In a global economy, said Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., "you better be able to swim with the sharks and have the same set of teeth that they have."
The vote gave bipartisanship a rare victory at a time when Congress seems unable to come up with solutions to partisan battles over student loans, extension of the Violence Against Women Act and a long-term highway and infrastructure spending bill. The vote was 330-93, with 93 of 240 voting Republicans opposing it.
The measure requires that the bank be more transparent in its dealings — a Republican demand — and requires the bank to show that its loans and loan guarantees are needed because the private sector would not undertake the risk or because of 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 it is losing business because of Ex-Im Bank loan assistance to foreign airlines buying new Boeing aircraft. It directs the Treasury secretary to initiate multilateral negotiations on reducing and eventually eliminating government export subsidies for aircraft and other products.
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, which operates without taxpayer money, financed some $32 billion in export sales last year, including about $11 billion worth of Boeing's large commercial sales. The 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.
Rep. Rick Larsen, a Democrat from Washington and a leading proponent of the legislation, said that in the last five years in his district the bank helped finance the sale of more than $22 billion in exports from 13 companies, including 7 small businesses. Washington state is the home of several Boeing plants.
Ex-Im Bank chairman and president Fred P. Hochberg said the bill passed by the House "will allow the bank to continue supporting U.S. jobs through exports at no cost to the taxpayers." He said reauthorization was key to President Barack Obama's goal of doubling exports over a five-year period.
The bank provides export financing support for about 2 percent of U.S. exports, well below the financial backing offered by other countries. China's export promotion agencies provide almost 10 times the financing of the U.S. bank.
Democrats raised this point in chiding Republicans for their indecision on the bank. While "House Republicans have been agonizing about acting, export powerhouses like China have been dramatically increasing their export financing programs," said Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan. Levin is the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, which handles trade issues.