In a victory for the business establishment over tea party conservatives, Congress revived the federal Export-Import Bank.
State and federal officials from Washington, who had pushed for the bank’s reauthorization for months, hailed the vote as an important win for Boeing and other aerospace businesses, small manufacturers, farmers and wineries.
“Finally, common sense prevailed over extreme partisan politics in favor of American businesses and workers,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. Five months ago Congress allowed the bank’s reauthorization to expire.
Business owners from Washington helped sway Congress when they “stood up to tell their stories so … Congress knew exactly what was at stake when they tried to put politics ahead of people,” said Sen Patty Murray, D-Wash.
The bank is a small federal agency that makes and guarantees loans to help foreign customers buy U.S. goods. A measure extending it through 2019 was included in a massive transportation bill that cleared the House and Senate late Thursday and is headed for President Barack Obama’s signature.
The development was cheered by business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which say the Ex-Im Bank is necessary for U.S. competitiveness since most overseas competitors rely on similar government help. But conservatives pushed by the GOP billionaire Koch brothers decried the development, arguing that the bank amounts to government interference in the free market and many of its beneficiaries are large corporations that don’t really need the help.
“The Export-Import Bank’s revival in this bill is especially offensive to taxpayers who want to end corporate welfare handouts and let the free market finance overseas investments by American companies,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Spokane Republican in House GOP leadership, received criticism for failing to support reauthorization when it was first proposed last year, saying she would only support a reformed Ex-Im Bank. She voted for reauthorization in a House bill in late October, and again Thursday when the bank’s fate was tied to the transportation bill.
The reauthorization approved Thursday requires the bank to increase the percentage of loans to small businesses from 20 percent to 25 percent; sets up an Office of Ethics; has its inspector general evaluate the risks in the bank’s portfolio; requires the hiring of a chief risk officer; and calls for an audit every four years by the Government Accountability Office. All of those reforms were in the bill first proposed by the Senate this spring before the bill’s lending authority lapsed.
For decades the bank was renewed by bipartisan agreement, with little or no debate and often not even a roll-call vote. But after the Koch brothers and other conservative groups began to seize on the opportunity to kill off a federal agency, leading Republicans such as House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy who once supported the bank turned against it.
Amid that pressure and with tea party lawmakers on the ascent on Capitol Hill, Congress failed to act when the bank’s charter was up for renewal June 30, allowing it to expire for the first time in its 81-year history.
All along, a majority of lawmakers in the House and Senate, including Republicans and Democrats with major manufacturers such as General Electric, Caterpillar or Boeing in their districts, supported the bank. An unusual series of maneuvers and alliances followed, including a rarely used procedure in the House to force a floor vote on the bank over the objections of top GOP leaders. McMorris Rodgers declined to sign the discharge petition that forced the vote, saying she normally does not sign such requests as a member of leadership, but voted for the bill when it came to the floor and passed easily.
The end result was that the measure ended up on the highway bill and five months after expiring, the Ex-Im Bank is getting back into business.
“We brought the Export-Import Bank back to life, so American manufacturers and workers can compete against our foreign competitors on a level playing field,” said GOP Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois. The bank says last year it authorized $20 billion worth of transactions which supported $27.5 billion of U.S. exports and 164,000 U.S. jobs.
However, conservatives and the Koch brothers said they’re not done yet.
In an interview, Marc Short, president of the Koch-backed Freedom Partners, said that in four years’ time when the bank is up for renewal again, opponents will prevail.
“Ironically … we believe we’re putting the final nails in the coffin of Ex-Im,” Short said. “We’ve been able to elevate Ex-Im as an issue that resonates with a broader cross-section of the American people.”
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