Shelby hints he's open to renewing Ex-Im

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyIn-space refueling vs heavy lift? NASA and SpaceX choose both Budget deal sparks scramble to prevent shutdown Trump border fight throws curveball into shutdown prospects MORE (R-Ala.) signaled Thursday that he's willing to support reauthorizing the Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank, as long as it is reformed to help small businesses.

"I have problems with the status quo, but I've supported Ex-Im before," Shelby told reporters.

Congress must reauthorize Ex-Im by the end of June, or it shuts down. Shelby said he'll have hearings on the bank's reauthorization and that he wants to see it reformed, so it isn't just "one or two or three big companies just getting corporate welfare."

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Tea Partyers led by House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) have criticized the Ex-Im Bank as a form of "corporate welfare" and "cronyism" designed to help big businesses like Boeing. Centrist Republicans and Democrats support the bank, arguing that it finances projects that sustain domestic jobs while helping U.S. businesses make inroads in emerging markets.

On Wednesday, Rep. Stephen FincherStephen Lee FincherTrump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid Lamar Alexander's exit marks end of an era in evolving Tennessee Tensions on immigration erupt in the House GOP MORE (R-Tenn.) introduced a five-year Ex-Im reauthorization bill co-sponsored by 57 other Republicans.

Hensarling has not said whether he will move Fincher's bill through his panel. If he does not move a bill, it would pressure House GOP leadership to either buck Hensarling and the Tea Party or Ex-Im supporters who are backed by the business community.

A senior House Republican aide said that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Hensarling "are on the same page regarding Ex-Im."

"If there is any bill regarding Ex-Im, it must come from the committee," the GOP aide said.

Hensarling told The Hill in a statement that he will "continue to oppose Ex-Im's reauthorization."

"Hardworking American taxpayers — who are already under tremendous stress — shouldn’t be forced to pay for foreign corporate welfare that advantages a handful of powerful, politically-connected corporations," Hensarling said.

Shelby declined to comment on Fincher's bill. Companion legislation hasn't been introduced in the Senate, where there is more support for the bank's reauthorization.

Fincher's bill includes reforms that require an independent audit of the bank's financing portfolio.

It reverses Ex-Im rules limiting the bank from financing projects with power plants that don't adopt greener technology. That provision, which environmental groups oppose and the coal industry supports, could prove a sticking point in the debate.

"The coal provision is definitely a nonstarter for many Democrats," said a senior Democratic House aide. "But Fincher's bill certainly puts pressure on Hensarling."

An industry source working on its long-term reauthorization said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), the House Financial Services Committee's top Democrat, might introduce a separate reauthorization bill without the coal provision.

"Coal may be a very big deal," the source said. "This has the biggest potential to derail the whole thing. But with slight tweaks to Fincher's bill, it should be able to get across the finish line."

Shelby told The Hill that he met with Hensarling and other members of the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday to discuss a legislative agenda for the new Congress, including ways to reform the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law. He declined to go into specifics about the meeting.

This story was updated at 6:08 p.m.