House approves overseas investment corporation, despite 116 GOP defections

The House on Thursday passed a measure to reauthorize the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and promote expanding electricity access in Africa despite "no" votes from 116 Republicans.

More Republicans opposed the bill than supported it in the 297-117 vote. Only one Democrat voted "no." There were 106 Republican "yes" votes.

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The vote offered a preview of a fight over reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank later this year. The charter for the Export-Import Bank, which provides financing for foreign purchasers of U.S. exports, expires Oct. 1, and it is expected to be a heavy lift to win its reauthorization.

The battle will pit grassroots conservative groups such as the Club for Growth and Heritage Action, which also opposed OPIC's reauthorization, against big businesses. 

The OPIC, an independent federal government agency, provides financing for private domestic companies that invest in emerging markets abroad. That financing includes risk insurance, loan guarantees and direct loans to U.S. companies.

“OPIC is the lesser known cousin of the Export-Import Bank,” Andy Roth, the Club for Growth's vice president of government affairs, said in a statement. “It is yet another example of the government picking winners and losers in the private sector.”

The bill approved by the House would allow the OPIC to invest in expanding access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa as part of a three-year reauthorization.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said the bill would boost the standard of living and economic productivity in Africa. It specifically would direct the president to establish a multi-year strategy to widen electricity use in Africa.

“It will improve lives in Africa. It will create jobs there and here in the United States. It is no secret that Africa has great potential as a trading partner and could help create jobs here in the U.S.,” said Royce, the measure's sponsor.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said the legislation would help make access to electricity in Africa more on par with other countries.

“In the United States, we take reliable electricity for granted. When we flip the switch, we expect the lights to come on,” Engel said. “Imagine if the power never came back and that was your life every day, year in and year out. That is the stark reality facing many families in Africa.”

Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) criticized the inclusion of the OPIC reauthorization, saying that taxpayer money should not be used for overseas investments.

“We are told it doesn't cost taxpayers because recent losses have been minimal and covered by fees. I remember similar assurances about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Such assurances are good only until they are not good, and taxpayer exposure is monumental and growing,” McClintock said.

Royce noted that the bill would create an inspector general for the OPIC and provided only a temporary extension. 

“I would also remind this body that we are only willing to give OPIC a short-term extension by redirecting it to focus on an area that lacks investment and will have a major impact on the long-term growth of a country, and that is electricity,” Royce said.

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