Ex-Im bank thrust into funding fight

Ex-Im bank thrust into funding fight
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Congressional supporters of the Export-Import Bank are pushing to restore full lending powers to the embattled agency in a stopgap bill funding the government. 

Democrats and some Republicans are fighting for a provision that would temporarily lower the quorum requirements for the bank so that it can approve loans of more than $10 million. The bank now has only two confirmed board members, one short of the three needed to approve such transactions.

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Whether the bipartisan push will be successful remains to be seen. 

Time is running short for lawmakers to reach an agreement on a short-term spending bill that would keep the government funded after Oct. 1. Senators are hoping to announce a deal as soon as Monday, in hopes of passing it quickly and returning to the campaign trail.

Doubts remain as to whether the Ex-Im amendment, sponsored by congressional Republicans, will make it into the continuing resolution (CR). Inclusion could spark a fight with conservatives, complicating passage of the bill.

Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampJoe Manchin's secret Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda Effective and profitable climate solutions are within the nation's farms and forests MORE (D-N.D.), who has been pushing the Senate Banking Committee to approve President Obama’s nominee to the Ex-Im board, said supporters of the quorum amendment are willing to hold up the spending bill if necessary. 

“There are a number of people on both sides of the aisle who feel very strongly about this, in fact strong enough to not vote for the CR and hold this up,” Heitkamp told The Hill.  

“Well you can say, 'Can you wait until the omnibus? Can you wait until the end of the year?' The answer is no, because those people who are relying on those jobs, great American manufacturing jobs, need this now,” she said. 

Supporters of the Ex-Im amendments have strength in numbers, as the battle to reauthorize the bank last year revealed that the agency has majority support in both chambers of Congress.

Heitkamp said she has talked to Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who led the charge with House Republicans to resuscitate the bank a year ago, as well as Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators The 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill MORE (R-S.C.), who is sponsoring the quorum amendment in the Senate.  

Hoyer told The Hill that if the Senate gets the Ex-Im provision into the CR, he would push for it in the House.  

The quorum amendment is an attempt to go around Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who has not yet considered Obama’s nominee, Mark McWatters, for the third spot on the Ex-Im board. 

McWatters, a Republican, once worked for Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), the House Financial Services Committee chairman who also is a major critic of Ex-Im. 

“This is to confirm a Republican nominee coming from Jeb Hensarling,” said Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownTop Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure Schumer's moment to transform transit and deepen democracy Democrats ramp up pressure for infrastructure deal amid time crunch MORE (D-Ohio), another Banking Committee member. “He’s not my favorite, but he believes in the bank. So whatever it takes, but I don’t know what’s going to happen.”  

The president on Friday nominated a second person to the board, Claudia Slacik. 

Earlier this summer, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) and Graham attached amendments to appropriations bills that would allow the Ex-Im Bank to operate for up to three years with only two board members, instead of three. 

With those appropriations measures now stalled, Dent said there is substantial support on both sides of the Capitol for including his quorum amendment in the CR.

“There are a lot of us who would like to see Ex-Im included,” Dent told The Hill. “And for many folks on the House Republican side who will be voting for the CR, many of them were also votes for the reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank, so I think it would be prudent to [add the amendment],” he said.  

Dent says he is talking to colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers about the quorum issue and says “there’s a lot of interest.”

The Ex-Im Bank says more than 30 transactions worth more than $20 billion are being held up due to the lack of a quorum. 

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said he thinks there is a lot of support for ensuring the bank is fully functional again. 

“I don't have any problem with that,” Cole said. “I wouldn't vote against the CR because it didn't have that, but I certainly wouldn't have any objections if it did. I think a lot of people are in that category. Hopefully it can make it."

Asked how much GOP support there would be, considering the conservative opposition to Ex-Im, Cole predicted "a fairly substantial number" of Republicans would back it. 

"Now some people are just against the Ex-Im Bank, and they may have a different point of view,” Cole said.  

“But you certainly would have the votes to do it. And a majority of our members supported Ex-Im, and you're not going to get any Democratic objections on this,” he said. 

Last week, 15 business groups sent a letter to congressional leaders arguing that the CR was the best option to deal with raising the quorum for the agency. 

While the Ex-Im push has strong support from business, groups on the right are trying to stop the amendment in its tracks. Conservatives say the bank is corporate welfare that should be abolished.

Thirty-six conservative groups on Friday sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden sets new vaccine mandate as COVID-19 cases surge Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire Trump takes two punches from GOP MORE (R-Ky.) and Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanRealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Juan Williams: Biden's child tax credit is a game-changer Trump clash ahead: Ron DeSantis positions himself as GOP's future in a direct-mail piece MORE (R-Wis.) strongly opposing any plans to attach the Ex-Im amendment to the CR. Freedom Partners and Americans for Prosperity spearheaded the letter.

Club for Growth, which signed Friday’s letter, said any move to include the amendment would only give more power to the Obama administration. 

“This is cronyism working behind the backs of the American people to protect more cronyism,” Club for Growth President David McIntosh said in a statement. 

Mike Lillis contributed.