Business on verge of victory in Ex-Im fight

Business groups are on the verge of a hard-fought victory over their Tea Party foes in Washington.

Conservative groups have gone to the mat to try and eliminate the 80-year-old Export-Import Bank, an agency that they argue is the poster child for corporate control of government.

ADVERTISEMENT

Their push appeared to gain momentum over the summer — until business groups and their allies began flexing their collective muscle.

In a show of force that has involved lobbyists, district events, advertising and social media campaigns — combined with a little bit of arm-twisting — trade associations have persuaded House Republican leaders to include a nine-month extension of the bank in a $1 trillion stopgap spending bill that is expected to gain approval next week. 

“The fact that what we’re talking about how long of an extension is certainly a victory for those of us who understand how important Ex-Im is,” said Linda Dempsey, NAM’s vice president of international affairs.

Dempsey credited the full-court press business groups made in lawmakers’ districts during the August recess as a primary reason for the extension. 

“It helped sway the tide to put this issue in a position to be included in the CR and move forward,” she said. “But again it’s a short-term fix.” 

Business groups say they are sticking with their goal of a long-term extension. 

“While we may have won the battle, the real prize for the broader business community is a multi-year extension,” she said. 

A long-term extension — five years is preferred by supporters — would provide U.S. exporters and their overseas customers with the certainty they need to take on bigger contracts, they argue.  

Without any for of extension, the bank’s charter would expire Sept. 30. 

Opponents of the bank, including Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb HensarlingThomas (Jeb) Jeb HensarlingLawmakers battle over future of Ex-Im Bank House passes Ex-Im Bank reboot bill opposed by White House, McConnell Has Congress lost the ability or the will to pass a unanimous bipartisan small business bill? MORE (R-Texas), have vowed to go back on the attack in the next Congress. They argue the bank is a form of corporate welfare in which Washington picks winners and losers.

Supporters, meanwhile, are holding out hope that a longer extension might be possible in a lame-duck session after the election, though that seems unlikely.

“We’re not giving up hope on a lame duck even if it’s a long shot,” said Lauren Airey, director of trade facilitation policy for NAM.

Airey said the groups will “stay the course” and continue showing lawmakers what the bank means to their districts in terms of jobs and economic output. 

She suggested several avenues to a long-term authorization, including a bipartisan Senate bill sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). 

“We will take advantage of any opportunity we get over next few months,” she said. “We won’t be letting up pressure on a long-term authorization.”

To that end, 10 groups — led by NAM — kept the heat on House and Senate leaders for the multi-year reauthorization, arguing in a letter sent Thursday that the agency is vital to the ability of small businesses to compete in the global economy. 

In fact, small businesses accounted for nearly 90 percent of the bank’s transactions last year.

“Delaying Ex-Im Bank reauthorization would hurt U.S. companies of every size and sector, threatening the export sales of thousands of U.S. manufacturers and other companies as well as the security of hundreds of thousands of American jobs that depend directly or indirectly on the Ex-Im Bank’s export financing,” the letter said. 

They argue that are at least 60 other financing options foreign companies looking for export assistance and that losing Ex-Im would provide an advantage to many of the nation’s major competitors. 

“Failure to reauthorize Ex-Im would force U.S. exporters to forfeit opportunity in the face of other nations’ aggressive trade finance programs,” the letter said.