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Business groups unleash K Street blitz to save Export-Import Bank

Business groups unleash K Street blitz to save Export-Import Bank

Business leaders are mobilizing an army of lobbyists in their bid to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, as Congress grapples with the fate of the embattled 81-year-old institution. 

More than 100 companies, industry groups and nonprofit organizations have lobbied Congress on Ex-Im this year, according to lobbying disclosures filed with the Senate, and their efforts have continued after the bank’s charter expired at the end of June.

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The majority of the K Street blitz is coming from companies and groups looking to reauthorize the bank, which helps provide financing for companies looking to do business in foreign markets.

Proponents of the bank say they are undeterred by a failed effort to attach language renewing the bank’s charter to a highway funding bill the House approved Wednesday before its lengthy summer recess, which pushes the debate well into September.

“The fact that it won’t get done on this bill doesn’t mean the proponents are just going to walk away,” said one lobbyist working on the Ex-Im issue, who asked not to be identified.

Supporters believe they have the votes to reauthorize Ex-Im in both the House and Senate. But mounting criticism from conservatives — who complain that the bank doles out “corporate welfare” to favored firms — has fractured the Republican Party, which controls both chambers.

Top House Republicans — including Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcCarthy faces pushback from anxious Republicans over interview comments Pelosi and Trump go a full year without speaking Jordan vows to back McCarthy as leader even if House loses more GOP seats MORE (Wis.), Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (La.) — have led the opposition in the lower chamber, putting themselves at odds with Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerPelosi and Trump go a full year without speaking Jordan vows to back McCarthy as leader even if House loses more GOP seats On The Trail: How Trump lost the law and order debate MORE (Ohio) and much of the conference’s rank and file.

That divide has spread to the lobbying community, where top business groups, including the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, are having to play defense against conservative organizations, such as Americans for Prosperity, the Club for Growth and Heritage Action for America. 

The Senate included a reauthorization of Ex-Im in the highway bill it passed this week, but House GOP leaders panned the legislation and left the bank out of its own infrastructure bill. 

Without its charter, the bank can continue to manage its current portfolio but can’t take on any new financing for projects. Though troublesome for the bank itself, the hiatus gives advocates on either side more time to press their cases.

For opponents, it’s more time to show policymakers that the sky has not fallen.

“As members come back in September and they look around at the world, [they’ll realize that] the Ex-Im Bank is not that important,” said Dan Holler, the communications director for Heritage Action. “I don’t think there is a lot of sympathy for a business that has created a business model around a subsidy.”

He said the expiration of the bank’s charter is an opportunity for members to return to their districts and show that the conservative ideal of shrinking the federal government’s reach had been accomplished.

“Proponents totally underestimated the desire of the new Republican Party to see some sort of change in Washington,” Holler said. “They thought they could throw a bunch of money at the problem [of the charter lapsing] and hope it would go away.”

Even some corporations — most notably Delta Air Lines — oppose the bank.

But many more — including General Electric, Boeing, Caterpillar, Honeywell International and the Nuclear Energy Institute — back its renewal. The sheer number of groups lobbying to keep the bank afloat could help proponents make their case to Congress that Ex-Im is an essential tool to keep U.S. firms competitive in global markets, not just a benefactor to a few firms.

Business groups vow to keep up the fight, even as reauthorization becomes more difficult as time passes. 

“We’re not letting up any of our ongoing effort, the things we’ve been doing for the last 18 months,” said Lauren Wilk, director of trade facilitation policy at the National Association of Manufacturers. 

“Companies hit that pause button for a few weeks [when the charter expired], but after a few months, there is going to be more of an impact because people are going to start losing deals,” she said. “Companies will be more willing to speak publicly about impacts near and long term.”

An industry-backed coalition, known as Exporters for Ex-Im, is expected to be active on that front over the summer recess.

The legislative path for the bank, however, remains unclear. Congressional proponents of the bank will likely have to find a new legislative vehicle for the measure when they return to Washington in September.

“At some point, it’s going to happen. The support is too broad. There’s twice as much support for it than there is against it” among members of Congress, said another lobbyist and former GOP leadership aide. “Do the math.”