WASHINGTON — The resurrection of the Export-Import Bank took a big step forward Tuesday when a reauthorization bill supported by a majority of the Northwest delegation passed the U.S. House of Representatives.
Lawmakers voted 313-118 to renew the federal credit agency through September 2019, but the bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate.
Supporters of the bill argued the bank keeps American businesses of all sizes on pace with international competitors by providing loans and insurance to foreign customers. The bank supported more than 160,000 jobs and $27 billion in exports last year, they said.
“When Congress allowed the charter of the Export-Import Bank to expire over the summer, we took away an important tool for American business owners and employees. They depend upon it. This is about jobs,” Rep. David Reichert, R-Wash., said Tuesday during debate.
Critics countered the bank unfairly benefits large corporations like Boeing and General Electric and label it “crony capitalism.”
“There are plenty of other ways to expand opportunity in this country, and corporate welfare is not one of them,” Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, likely the next House Speaker, said Tuesday.
The bank’s charter expired July 1, and it can’t conduct new business unless it’s renewed. Backers used a rare discharge petition, signed by a majority of the House, to dislodge the reauthorization bill from the Financial Services Committee, where it was stalled by the chairman.
All 10 Washington House members joined Idaho Republican Mike Simpson in voting for the bill. Simpson’s seatmate, Republican Raul Labrador, voted against it.
The Freedom Caucus, of which Labrador is a founding member, said in a statement the bank is the “bridge to nowhere of corporate welfare.”
“The Ex-Im Bank financially supports less than 2 percent of U.S. exports and supports mega-corporations at the expense of small businesses – literally picking winners and losers among American workers,” the caucus said.
Eastern Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers voted against the discharge petition Monday, but for reauthorization Tuesday. The bill included “significant reforms” to protect taxpayers from corruption and cronyism, she said.
“Immediately eliminating this tool would put winemakers in Walla Walla, manufacturers in Spokane and farmers across our region at a serious disadvantage by limiting their products from being sold around the world,” she said in a prepared statement.
Simpson said the charge that the bank only benefits big businesses “cannot be further from the truth.” Ninety percent of the services it provides support small business, he said in a recent statement.
The bill now moves to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opposes it. The bill can’t get a vote in that chamber unless he allows it to come to the floor, but it could be tacked on to a bill to fund highway programs.
“The way to achieve Ex-Im, if it’s going to be achieved in the Senate, is in the context of the highway bill,” McConnell said Tuesday.
The Northwest Senate delegation is split on the bank’s reauthorization, with both Idaho Republicans opposed and both Washington Democrats among leading proponents for renewal.
“We’ve already shown there are 67 votes supporting reauthorization in the Senate,” Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said Tuesday in a statement that contended “common sense prevailed” in the House.
President Obama supports the bank and is expected the sign the bill if it reaches his desk. The decision “should be a no-brainer,” he said earlier this year.
Boeing, which employs about 80,000 people in Washington state, has by far the most on the line with the bank’s future. The bank last year provided $7.4 billion in loan guarantees to the company’s customers, supporting nearly 15 percent of its jet deliveries.
Since the charter expired July 1, the aerospace giant reported it lost two lucrative satellite contracts. General Electric also announced it was moving 500 jobs overseas.
“This has nothing to do with corporate welfare,” Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg told CBS News on Sunday. “This is about U.S. manufacturing jobs. This is about competitiveness.”
Kevin Graeler, a student in the University of Missouri Journalism School’s Washington, D.C., Reporting Program works as an intern for The Spokesman-Review.
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