The Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank is entering a new era of uncertainty, with lawmakers poised to let the agency’s charter expire on June 30 — and no guarantee it will ever be renewed.
Fred Hochberg, the president of the bank, is downplaying the possibility the bank could close, saying he’s confident the charter will ultimately be reauthorized this summer despite conservative opposition in Congress.
Hochberg stressed during an interview with The Hill that there would not be layoffs for the agency’s 450 employees when the charter expires.
“Nothing immediate happens in terms of anybody on staff. We are fully funded through Sept. 30,” Hochberg said.
That’s not to say that the loss of the charter won’t have an impact on Ex-Im’s operations.
Without it, the bank will no longer be able to make any new loans or financing commitments to promote the sale of U.S. goods abroad.
“We can’t support any new job growth if there’s a lapse,” Hochberg said.
But a shutdown of Ex-Im’s financing ope-ration is welcome news for many conservatives in Congress, who say the bank distorts the marketplace by exerting government influence in the private sector.
Backed by conservative groups, Republican critics of the bank have been fighting to dismantle it and are now closer than ever to reaching that goal.
“The truth is that most Americans would be surprised to learn the bank employs that many people to steer sweetheart deals to Boeing and Emirates Air,” said Dan Holler, spokesman for Heritage Action.
But opponents of the bank are facing blowback from the business community, including the Chamber of Commerce. They argue the bank’s financing of big businesses like Boeing helps sustain small-business jobs and are pushing GOP leaders to renew the charter.
While most expect the bank’s charter to expire on Friday, Ex-Im’s advocates expect lawmakers to reauthorize it in July, perhaps by attaching the reauthorization to a funding bill for transportation.
Hochberg has made a concerted effort to try to preserve morale at his agency. In mid-May, he instructed senior officials to hold weekly brown-bag lunches with staffers to talk about the latest developments.
“There is anxiety on staff. ... People are looking for more certainty about what the long-term future holds,” Hochberg said.
He expects there to be a vote next month to extend the bank’s charter. That’s a slight variation of his previous public comments in which he was optimistic lawmakers would reach a deal before July 30.
“There’s a good likelihood that we’re going to get a vote in July,” he said.
Pressed about when he might have to develop a plan for winding down the bank, Hochberg said they’re “a long way away from having to make any permanent plans.”
Congress, through the appropriations process, tells the bank how much of the fees it charges businesses it can keep in order to operate. That appropriation language is what guarantees the bank can continue to manage its portfolio through the end of September.
Hochberg said Ex-Im officials periodically send out staff-wide emails whenever they have updates on strategy and developments.
“We are constantly trying to keep them informed,” he said.
The Ex-Im president said the congressional battle over the bank has hurt the agency’s ability to recruit talent. Job candidates “want assurance before they jump onboard” that the bank will be stay in business, he said.
Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownCentrist state lawmaker enters Ohio GOP Senate primary The Trojan Horse of protectionism Advocates call on top Democrats for 0B in housing investments MORE (D-Ohio), the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, said he’s “concerned about the workers that lose their jobs at the bank.”
“And I’m concerned about the workers who won’t get hired or will lose their jobs if it doesn’t get reauthorized,” Brown said.
The Ohio Democrat couldn’t predict whether the bank would get reauthorized in July.
“I don’t know what to think,” he said. “I’m so surprised that the Republicans would just turn their backs on the business community.”
Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her MORE (R-Tenn.) downplayed concerns of immediate layoffs at the bank, saying he had “not heard of that even being an issue.”
Corker and 30 other Republicans voted against the bank in a test vote in the Senate earlier this month. Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersPelosi says House members would not vote on spending bill topline higher than Senate's Groups push lawmakers to use defense bill to end support for Saudis in Yemen civil war Congress must address the looming debt crisis MORE (I-Vt.), who is running for the White House, also voted no.
The vote’s 65-31 tally showed widespread support for the bank in the upper chamber, raising hopes among Ex-Im supporters that a reauthorization bill could move through the chamber next month.
Corker said he still hadn’t made up his mind about whether to vote to support the bank.
“I don’t know,” he said. “When I look at the international competition, it really does feel like a race to the bottom to me.”