Momentum builds for Ex-Im Bank in Senate

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Once in doubt, the push to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank is gaining a head of steam in the Senate.

Senate Republicans are signaling broad support in their caucus for a bipartisan bill that would reauthorize the bank’s charter for five years.

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The positive reception to the bill has buoyed supporters of Ex-Im after bitter clashes with conservative outside groups that decry the bank as “corporate welfare” and are determined to close it down.

“It’s really encouraging to see so many members on both sides of aisle talk about Ex-Im,” said Lauren Airey, director of trade facilitation policy for the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), which supports reauthorizing the bank.

Airey said lawmakers are beginning to coalesce around a bill that Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) are expected to introduce soon.

“All the education and outreach is resonating with members of Congress and they will continue to hear that message,” Airey said.

NAM and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have taken the lead in a major lobbying push to renew Ex-Im, with the support of hundreds of other business groups. They are trying to sell lawmakers on the importance of the bank by making the connection to jobs in their states and districts.

Without congressional action, the bank’s charter expires on Sept. 30.

Still, the legislative path for a bill remains murky, even with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) saying he expects a bill to pass the Senate before the start of the August recess.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), the leader of the House Financial Services Committee, is a vocal critic of Ex-Im, and it remains unclear when — or if — he will move forward with legislation.

Senate Banking, meanwhile, could mark up its Ex-Im legislation or shoot it straight to the floor for consideration.

The measure falls under the jurisdiction of Manchin’s Banking subcommittee on National Security and International Trade and Finance, where Kirk holds the post of ranking Republican.

The panel requires a week’s notice for hearings, meaning the earliest the panel could consider the legislation is probably the week of July 21, putting it another week closer to the start of the summer recess, with little time to reach an agreement.

The leading option at the moment seems to be Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) attaching the bank reauthorization to a short-term continuing resolution aimed at keeping the government running beyond Oct. 1.

But there is the possibility that the bill could be added to another bill dealing with the Highway Trust Fund or terrorism insurance.

NAM isn’t taking a standalone bill off the table, but that option would only be possible if the Senate could get past the procedural quarrels that have derailed other legislation.

In 2012, the Senate renewed Ex-Im charter with broad support in a 78-20 vote, and many of the Republicans who supported the bank last time are signing on again.

The group of Republicans who say they will vote for bank’s continuation include Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Roy Blunt (Mo.), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Tim Scott (S.C.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Mike Johanns (Neb.) and Rob Portman (Ohio).

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had said he is inclined to back it but wants to take a look at the proposal.

With 53 Democrats in support of Ex-Im, legislation renewing the charter would easily overcome a cloture vote.

Linda Dempsey, vice president of international economic affairs at NAM, said that lawmakers should expect to hear from businesses back home “more intensely over the next few weeks.”

John Feehery, a Republican consultant who worked for former Speaker Dennis Hastert and is a columnist at The Hill, said earlier this week he is convinced the bank’s charter will win a reauthorization, although probably with some reforms.

Even though House conservatives have mounted their biggest campaign yet against the bank, 41 House Republicans signed a letter in support of reauthorizing it that was sent to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Retiring Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.) and Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) say they each also have legislation in the works, boosting hopes among business groups that a bill can get through Congress.

“As this debate continues the importance of Ex-Im to jobs in the United States is more important not less important,” Dempsey said.  

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