Export-Import fight shifts to McConnell

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is coming under heavy pressure to resurrect the Export-Import Bank after a strong show of support in the House.

Supporters of the bank are seizing on the 313-118 House vote in favor of Ex-Im to argue that the time has come to renew the charter of the agency, which finances American exports abroad.

{mosads}“I would hope over here the Republican leader would move forward on this now,” Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Wednesday. “We should get this done this week.” 

The charter of the 81-year-old bank expired in June, after conservative critics in the House bottled up legislation to renew it.

Supporters of the bank broke through that blockade on Tuesday, forcing a vote to reauthorize Ex-Im through the use of discharge petition — a tactic that hadn’t succeeded in the House since 2002.

The final vote in favor of the bank surprised even some of Ex-Im’s staunchest supporters, with 127 Republicans — a narrow majority of the conference — voting in favor of it despite vocal opposition on the right.

“The dirty little secret is out in Washington. That is, that you can’t pass the Ex-Im Bank reauthorization because there isn’t enough support in the Congress to do so,” Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said Wednesday.

“That was a bunch of hooey promulgated by some conservative think tanks who wanted to hold conservative Republicans hostage.”

Rep. Stephen Fincher (Tenn.), a Republican who led the push for the discharge petition, suggested the House vote has changed the political calculus for McConnell.

“Sen. McConnell is more open [to Ex-Im] after seeing the vote number last night,” Fincher told The Hill after meetings with Senate GOP leadership Wednesday morning. 

“It’s a big deal,” Fincher added.

In July, the Senate included a measure reauthorizing Ex-Im in a long-term highway bill, but the House refused to take up the legislation.

Buoyed by Tuesday’s House vote, Senate Democrats are now pressing McConnell to bring up the stand-alone Ex-Im bill instead of relegating it to a conference negotiation over highway funding.

On Wednesday night, McConnell started the fast-track process for a stand-alone version of Ex-Im reauthorization on behalf of Democrats, but he is under no obligation to bring it up for floor consideration.

“The highway bill should stand or fall on its own merits, and this legislation. … We have Republicans who will vote with us,” Reid said.

Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.), who helped shepherd the Ex-Im measure through the House, said he hopes the lower chamber’s strong support “will give the impetus to Sen. McConnell to move this forward.”

“My hope is that this moves and moves rather quickly,” Dold said. 

The House is slated next week to take up a transportation bill that is expected to include authorization of Ex-Im. A House-Senate conference committee is expected to follow.

Fincher said he is hearing that there is “all sorts of leverage being applied” on passing an Ex-Im measure, which may speed up the process. 

“Obviously the House has spoken, so that will put a lot more pressure on the Senate. The question is, is how do you do it,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said.

But McConnell, who has said he opposes a stand-alone vote on Ex-Im, is under pressure from the right to stand firm.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is running for president, said in a statement that McConnell “has the opportunity to do the right thing” by blocking reauthorization of the bank.

“Majority Leader McConnell has publicly promised not to bring Ex-Im reauthorization to the Senate floor. If he keeps that promise, then this cronyism will remain dead, and Leader McConnell will deserve the credit,” Cruz said.

So far, McConnell had been adamant that Ex-Im would get no more floor time.

“I gave them an opportunity on the highway bill, and the supporters got 65 votes, so that’s — it’s pretty clear there are a significant number of senators who support it,” McConnell said on Tuesday. 

“The way to achieve Ex-Im, if it’s going to be achieved in the Senate, would be in the context of the highway bill,” he added.

Conservatives have assailed the Ex-Im Bank as a form of corporate welfare, arguing it distorts the marketplace and fleeces taxpayers.

The business community has fought back, arguing the agency provides crucial financing that helps American businesses compete.

John Murphy, senior vice president of international policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the vote on the House bill “gives us momentum, and I hope that it will lead leadership to bringing a stand-alone bill to the floor.” 

“We’re just urging leadership to find some path that will work and do so quickly,” Murphy said. 

Ex-Im supporters in the House on Wednesday said they weren’t surprised by the strong vote on the discharge petition, telling The Hill they always thought there were at least 300 votes for saving the bank.

“I think that the show of bipartisanship and the large bipartisan vote that happened in the House yesterday is a signal to the Senate that we are very serious about making sure that this moves forward,” Dold said.

“And Sen. McConnell, this is not one where you can sit on your hands.”

Tags Harry Reid John McCain Maria Cantwell Mitch McConnell Stephen Fincher Ted Cruz
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