The clock runs out on Ex-Im

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The Export-Import Bank will expire just after midnight Tuesday, and backers of reauthorizing the embattled federal institution have no clear path forward in Congress.

The 80-year-old bank, which helps to finance overseas projects involving American companies, has long enjoyed bipartisan support. But in recent months, Ex-Im has become a target of the conservative wing of the GOP, which derides the bank as doling out “corporate welfare.”

Business leaders and supporters on both sides of the aisle in Congress are hopeful that the Senate will attach a reauthorization amendment to an infrastructure spending bill in July.

But it remains unclear whether Tea Party critics and conservatives in Congress might block any such amendment.

Export-Import Bank President Fred Hochberg has said that there will not be any immediate lay-offs at the bank, noting it is fully funded through Sept. 30.

“Nothing immediate happens in terms of anybody on staff," Hochberg said in a recent interview.

House Financial Services Committee chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) emerged as the top opponent of the bank and is joined by members of House Republican leadership, including Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

"The challenge for supporters of a competitive free-market economy is to make sure Ex-Im stays expired," Hensarling said. "Ex-Im is a part of yesterday’s economy. Our focus needs to be on tomorrow’s economy and on reforms that will give every American greater opportunities to succeed."

Rep. Stephen FincherStephen FincherRep. Fincher to retire Export-Import Bank takes step toward renewal Transportation deal includes Ex-Im renewal MORE (R-Tenn.) — a conservative who has introduced legislation in the House to reform the bank, while also extending its charter — said that he was considering introducing amendments to the transportation funding bill in July to extend the charter.

However, environmental groups will likely object to some of the Republican reform provisions, including provisions loosening restrictions on the coal industry.

Democrats have aligned themselves with the business community — including powerful groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers — on this issue. Nearly every Democrat in Congress, with the exception of Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersEx-Arizona governor: Hispanic Dems 'don’t get out and vote' Emails show Clinton camp's plans to work with writers to hit Sanders Small donors aren’t revolutionizing Congress. At least not yet. MORE (I-Vt.), is backing its reauthorization.

Tony Fratto, a partner at business communications consulting firm Hamilton Place Strategies, said that there is "broad and bipartisan" support for the bank in Congress.

"The small group of reckless members who previously tried to shut down the government ... now are trying to thwart the will of the majority and shut down the Ex-Im Bank," said Fratto, a former White House official in the George W. Bush administration.

He said that the bank's lapse would "again embarrass the Congress."

The bank's critics say that once doomsday economic scenarios related to the bank’s demise prove to be untrue, its supporters will be the ones embarrassed.

Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod BrownDem senator praises US steel after car crash Lobbying World Podesta floated Bill Gates, Bloomberg as possible Clinton VPs MORE (D-Ohio), the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, said that the bank was "one of the most effective tools we have to help businesses."

“The Ex-Im Bank has long had bipartisan support, but it is now endangered by politicians and special interests that are putting extreme ideology ahead of our nation’s workers, exporters, and manufacturers," he said.

Several top-tier Republican presidential candidates have attacked the bank. Among them is Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioRubio: GOP Congress could go in different direction than Trump Poll: Clinton holds 4-point lead in Florida Republicans, it's time to stop asking 'What would Reagan do?' MORE (R-Fla.), who criticized Ex-Im during a forum in New Hampshire last week hosted by Americans For Prosperity. 

"It is obscure, you don't hear a lot of conversation about it, and it certainly isn't a topic of conversation in the news or in the newspapers, and people don't know that it's there," Rubio said.

Sen. David VitterDavid VitterDavid Duke gets debate slot in La. Senate race GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election Trump’s implosion could cost GOP in Louisiana Senate race MORE (R-La.) said that he had urged Ex-Im officials to set up a "transition plan for its small business export financing with the Small Business Administration."

"Ex-Im has a responsibility to communicate to its small business clients that the SBA is available to help — when Ex-Im isn't," Vitter said.

He said hasn't heard back from Ex-Im officials.