Business groups try to save Ex-Im Bank

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Hundreds of business groups, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, demanded Monday that the House vote on extending the Export-Import Bank’s charter.

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Just a day after House Majority Leader-elect Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) shocked the business community by announcing his opposition to the bank, Chamber CEO Tom Donohue promised business would ramp up pressure on GOP leaders.

“It’s not going to be as cute as everyone thinks. There will be great pressure to at least let the House have its vote,” Donohue told reporters.

He spoke after the release of a letter signed by 865 business groups that said ending the Export-Import Bank would kill jobs and hurt the economy. The letter was sent to every Capitol Hill office, and the signatories included businesses represented in every state and the District of Columbia.

Donohue and National Association of Manufacturers CEO Jay Timmons struck a confident note on Monday, insisting they would prevail if the House gave the bank a fair vote.

“I feel very confident it will get through the Congress,” Timmons said.

Killing the Export-Import Bank has become a cause célèbre for Tea Party Republicans on the rise within the GOP. They argue the bank is a form of corporate welfare, and label its supporters as country club Republicans.

Outside pressure groups including Heritage Action and the Club for Growth have led the charge against Ex-Im and were given a huge boost when McCarthy, who voted in favor of extending the Ex-Im charter in 2012, announced his opposition in an interview on Fox News on Sunday.

The shift from McCarthy came just days after he was elected majority leader, and suggests a pivot to the right. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), who was elected House majority whip last week, also opposes the bank.

That puts Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who has supported the bank, in a tough position.

Boehner’s office on Monday distanced the Speaker from the dispute, and said that House Republicans would need to study the issue in committee.

“Boehner has been clear that this is an issue that members, particularly on the Financial Services Committee, need to discuss, and that is happening,” said Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman. 

Ex-Im supporters say the charter would almost certainly be extended in a bipartisan vote if it came to the floor. The House last extended the charter in May 2012 in a 330-93 vote, with all the “no” votes coming from Republicans.

Forty-one House Republicans sent a letter to Boehner on Monday calling for the charter’s extension.

“We believe that Congress should move forward with a multi-year reauthorization of Ex-Im that provides certainty and stability for U.S. manufacturers and exporters of all sizes,” the letter said.

McCarthy is just the latest big Republican name to turn against the bank.

Besides McCarthy and Scalise, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), whose panel has jurisdiction over the bill, opposes a renewal of the charter, which is set to expire on Sept. 30. 

Hensarling’s committee will hold a hearing on the issue Wednesday.

Donohue blamed outside groups for a decline in Ex-Im’s political support, saying business owners across the country are “perplexed by the inside-the-Beltway campaign” against the bank.

“The thousands of small businesses that depend on the bank to be able to access foreign markets are stunned at the threat that Washington could let its charter lapse. We’re not going to let that happen,” he said. 

Timmons and Donohue said they are mounting an attack of their own, which includes bringing in former House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt (Mo.) and former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) to seal the deal. 

But that’s unlikely to appease conservative Republicans who argue the ex-lawmakers are a part of the Washington culture they’re seeking to change.

Donohue also argued that without the bank, business would shift to U.S. competitors.

“What do we want to do, give this business to the Europeans or the Chinese?” he said.

The White House is pressing for passage of a five-year measure, although a more likely scenario would be to move a short-term extension within other legislation — possibly a spending bill to keep the government funded.

Francis Creighton, head of government affairs at The Financial Services Roundtable, acknowledged that McCarthy’s comments make winning an extension tougher.

“But we believe that the Ex-Im Bank has broad support across the House to create jobs and we’ll keep talking to every member of the House on an aggressive basis,” he said.

Donohue and Timmons also warned a short-term extension would pose problems by keeping the bank from making any long-term commitments.

Democrats on Monday were happy to highlight how the threat to the bank is coming from McCarthy and Republicans.

“I hope House Republican leaders will decide to work with us to support American businesses that want to hire new workers and sell their products overseas instead of worrying about another Tea Party revolt,” Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said in an email to The Hill.

The White House said President Obama “strongly supports” the bank’s reauthorization.

This story was posted at 11:10 a.m. and updated at 8:47 p.m.