Toughest battle for Ex-Im Bank

Supporters of the Export-Import Bank are facing their greatest challenge ever this year in trying to win congressional renewal of the bank’s charter. 

Thirty conservative groups rallied on Capitol Hill against the Ex-Im Bank on Monday, and have made killing it a top legislative priority. 

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Their opponents in the establishment wing of the Republican Party, led by the Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturing, plan their own Ex-Im lobbying day at the Capitol on Thursday. 

Grassroots GOP opposition has grown against the bank, which offers loan guarantees to companies buying U.S. exports. Tea Party groups have criticized the supports as a form of corporate welfare, and some U.S. companies see Ex-Im as helping their competitors.

Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) are among the bank’s opponents. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who helped negotiate a deal to extend the bank’s charter the last time it was up, has signaled supporters need to work with members of Hensarling’s committee this time.

Despite those hurdles, several business lobbyists on Monday expressed confidence they’ll win the internal GOP battle to extend the charter beyond Oct. 1.

They are focused on the Senate Banking Committee, where they are urging Chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and ranking member Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) to act fast before Tea Party activists can build more opposition. 

They say it’s important to at least have a bill in the pipeline before Hensarling tries to gin up public furor with a series of planned hearings.

“At least get a bill out there and introduced, even if they don’t mark it up this month,” said one source. “There needs to be a bill that exporters can get excited about.”

Business lobbyists are telling staffers that after housing, they want the Senate panel to move to Ex-Im, and not the reauthorization of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act.

A Banking Committee aide told The Hill that reauthorization is a “priority,” and that the panel hopes to reach a deal on a bipartisan bill after finishing legislation reforming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

In the House, the business groups are putting their faith in a GOP working group led by retiring Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.), who leads the trade subcommittee on Financial Services. 

Since Hensarling is opposed to renewing the charter, Ex-Im supporters need Campbell and other members of the panel to move their bill through regular order.

Campbell’s group has produced a draft bill but is waiting to see what Hensarling plans next. 

An aide to Campbell said the draft includes more than 20 reforms that would reduce taxpayer exposure to the banks risks.

“We are not releasing the bill or any details about it until Chairman Hensarling or House leadership decide that they are interested in pursuing this option,” Campbell aide Christopher Bognanno said. 

Reps. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.), Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.), Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.) and Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) are also involved in the effort.

Business lobbyists say they know their task is difficult, and they admitted to gaming out some possible concessions to win GOP approval for the charter.

Delta Airlines wants the bank to get out of the business of financing wide-body aircraft sales from Boeing. Delta argues that its competitors on international routes are getting an unfair advantage in buying the planes through loans guaranteed by the Ex-Im Bank. 

Given Boeing’s dependence on Ex-Im for foreign sales and the unwillingness of private banks to enter the market, however, business sources said this change is a total non-starter.

A more likely concession, they said, would be placing the bank’s lending cap at $140 billion rather than allowing it to rise to $160 billion as requested by the Obama administration.

“There are some big nuclear deals coming down the pike, but business probably is comfortable sitting at 140,” one source said.

Transparency measures and changes to accounting methods could also be on the table, lobbyists said. 

Both sides say it’s possible the fight will last beyond Oct. 1 and carry into a lame-duck session of Congress.

One possible last resort is to wrap a three-to-six month renewal for Ex-Im into a continuing resolution keeping the government open after Oct. 1.

Another possibility, viewed less favorably by business groups, is to allow the bank to close, but then reopen it again in a lame-duck session. 

Opponents of Ex-Im rallying on Monday expressed optimism that momentum is on their side. The groups sought to paint the picture of the Ex-Im Bank as being a “slush fund” for friends of the Obama administration.

“This is an entity that rewards having buddies and friends in high places and that’s what it is about,” said Tim Phillips of Americans for Prosperity.

He said AFP will be holding events in select House districts to pressure more conservatives to oppose the bank. The 2012 reauthorization passed with only 93 Republicans in opposition. 

The coalition was organized by AFP and includes the Club for Growth, Heritage Action for America, National Taxpayers Union, R Street Institute, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Council for Citizens Against Government and FreedomWorks as well as Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform.

The Export-Import Bank on Monday defended its record and denies it plays political favorites. 

“Ex-Im Bank proudly stands behind its 80-year track record of supporting American jobs through exports. We supported nearly 1.2 million jobs here at home over the last five years, including 205,000 American jobs last year alone,” spokesman Matt Bevens said.

“The Bank is also fiscally responsible, having sent more than $1 billion to the U.S. Treasury in 2013 — an all-time record — for deficit reduction, and we did so with a historically low active-default rate of less than one-quarter of one percent,” Bevens said.