Senate Democrats mull Ex-Im tie to government-funding measure

Democrats think they have the upper hand with Republicans in the fight to renew the Export-Import Bank.

Seeing a chance to cozy up to the business community, Democrats have rallied around renewing the bank and say it should be included as part of a bill to fund the government that Congress must pass before the end of September.

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That puts significant pressure on Republicans, who are divided over renewing the Export-Import Bank’s charter in the first place.

By marrying Ex-Im to the government funding measure, Democrats believe they can go on offense by threatening to blame the GOP for a possible government shutdown over refusing to fund an institution that has had bipartisan support for decades.

Without a new funding bill by the end of September, the government will shut down. The Export-Import Bank will also shut down on Oct. 1 without a new authorization.

“Democrats see the CR as their biggest weapon in terms of garnering greater Republican support” for the Export-Import Bank, said one top GOP strategist who opposes reauthorization.

On Ex-Im, Republicans are split between Tea Party conservatives who see the bank’s financing as a form of corporate welfare for corporate giants such as Boeing and GE, and others who say the bank’s loans have helped small-town businesses in their districts.

The GOP strategist conceded that the bank’s supporters are “gaining ground,” but said that they hadn’t completely “boxed in” opponents.

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) put plans to introduce their reauthorization bill on hold because of the House GOP split, and the possibility that a “continuing resolution” to temporarily fund the government could be the path forward.

Manchin smiled when asked if including Ex-Im in a CR would make it difficult for the bank’s opponents to shut it down.

“It makes it a little difficult, doesn’t it?” he quipped.

“There’s definitely talk about it going through a CR,” Manchin continued. “I think that’s where they’re going to work it out between the House and Senate. 

“That’s why we’ve delayed it to see if there’s a possibility that [House leadership] can work through it,” he added.

Kirk said that he believes the “better way” to reauthorize the bank would be to “authorize it and appropriate it in an appropriations measure.”

“It’d continue the operations of the bank uninterrupted,” Kirk said. 

Kirk said he’d prefer for Ex-Im to be reauthorized as part of legislation approved by the Senate Banking subcommittee he leads, but made it clear that a government-funding bill was an option.

An aide to Kirk described it as plan B.

“Including reauthorization in a CR is an option, but a plan B option,” the Kirk aide said. “If Harry Reid is going to mess with that bill getting a vote, the CR is an option to ensure that bank operations are uninterrupted,” the aide said, referring to the Democratic Senate majority leader from Nevada.  

Reid’s office did not respond to requests for comment. 

The bank’s opponents, Heritage Action spokesman Dan Holler says, would prevent the Senate from getting the 60 votes necessary to overcome procedural hurdles if the government funding measure includes Ex-Im’s reauthorization.

“Harry Reid has been peddling that line for a month,” Holler said. “[But] it’s clear the Senate cannot get to 60 votes, meaning they have absolutely no ability to jam the House.”

Ex-Im supporters disagree. They point to a broad coalition of centrist Republicans and groups such as the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers that back reauthorization.

It’s also possible the CR method could be more popular with Democrats than the Manchin-Kirk reauthorization bill, which sparked criticism among liberals because of its provisions to reverse policies that limit Ex-Im from financing projects dealing with coal plants. 

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), a conservative who backs Ex-Im’s reauthorization, said he’s heard talk of including it in the government-funding bill.

“There’s certainly been rumors of it,” he said.

The GOP strategist noted that Reid knows tying the two issues could help Democrats, saying the “number one thing Republicans want to avoid is a government shutdown a month before the November elections.”

“It would be disastrous for the GOP’s chances of gaining control of the Senate in 2014,” the GOP strategist said.

Francis Creighton, head of government affairs at the Financial Services Roundtable, said supporters are working to make sure that there’s “a longer-term extension and not just a three-month extension in any vehicle that’s moving.”

Sherrod Brown (Ohio), a top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, said the administration should be doing more to push Ex-Im, given the GOP divide.

“I think the more they [the administration] push, the more Republicans recoil,” Brown said. “It’s amazing to me that we can’t do this — something that we’ve done for decades on a bipartisan basis.”