House passes Ex-Im Bank reboot bill opposed by White House, McConnell

The House on Friday passed a bill along party lines to fund and overhaul the Export-Import Bank after a bipartisan agreement crumbled under Democratic opposition.

The House voted 235-184 to send the bill to the Senate, where it is unlikely to see action. 

Only 13 House Republicans supported the bill Friday after the White House budget office announced its opposition to the bill Thursday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel (R-Ky.) also said Thursday he would not take up the measure, all but officially killing the House bill.

Congress is expected to extend Ex-Im funding in a broader measure to avoid a shutdown, which should keep it running through mid-December. But the House’s failure to pass a viable bill marks the latest blow to bipartisan efforts to reboot the controversial export subsidizer.

“Let’s not waste the people’s time here in the House of Representatives with a needless debate on something that’s kind of going nowhere,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry (N.C.), ranking Republican on the House Financial Services Committee. “Let’s actually work on something that could take us somewhere. We had a bipartisan bill. Sadly the majority walked away from it.”

Hopes were for an Ex-Im overhaul in 2019 after the retirement of Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), the former Financial Services panel chairman who helped briefly shut down the bank in 2015.

Established in 1934 to subsidize foreign sales of U.S. goods, the Ex-Im Bank operated with strong bipartisan support for most of its history. But Republicans led by Hensarling successfully blocked the bank’s funding from July through December 2015, shuttering Ex-Im in opposition to GOP leadership. 

With Hensarling out of the way, House Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and McHenry were clear to negotiate a bill to expand Ex-Im’s charter and quell GOP concerns of crony capitalism. 

“If we fail to reauthorize the bank, American businesses will be harmed, and thousands of jobs will be lost,” Waters said Thursday in a speech on the House floor. She added it was crucial to send “a message to the world that the U.S. is ready and is prepared to aggressively compete in overseas export markets.”

Waters and McHenry struck a deal in June to extended Ex-Im’s charter for 10 years, increase its lending capacity and allow the bank to operate at full power without a quorum. But Waters was forced to pull the bill from consideration after Democratic members objected to stricter bans on loans to Chinese firms and a lack of restrictions on funding oil, gas and coal-related projects

Waters released a new version of the bill in October meant to soothe the concerns of her caucus, but the weaker restrictions on lending to China cost her GOP support for the bill. The Financial Services Committee cleared the bill by a vote of 30-27, with three Democrats joining Republicans in opposition.

Republicans argue that any lending to firms partially owned by the Chinese government undermines bipartisan efforts to curb Beijing’s economic ambitions. While the bill passed by the House on Friday prevents loans to sanctioned entities or those tied to Beijing’s military, GOP lawmakers insisted on tougher provisions. 

“Any Ex-Im reauthorization that doesn’t address the strategic threat to our national interest posed by China’s economic and military efforts is not in the best interest of the American workers,” said Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.) on Thursday, who previously expressed interest in a bipartisan deal. 

Staunch supporters of the Ex-Im Bank counter that banning sales to firms partially owned by the Chinese government would devastate U.S. businesses that supply its railroad, infrastructure and utility industries. 

Rep. Denny Heck (D-Wash.), who opposed the bipartisan measure from Waters and McHenry, argued Friday that banning innocuous sales to China through Ex-Im undercuts U.S. industry with shortsighted foreign policy.

“I understand the frustration with China,” Heck said on the House floor moments before the Friday vote. 

“If you want us to be a nation that builds the most sophisticated machines on land, on sea, in the air, and in space — if you want us to be a nation that sends its goods around the world,” Heck continued, “support this bill, and put the Ex-Im on a strong footing to meet the challenges of the decade to come.”

Tags Denny Heck Jeb Hensarling Maxine Waters Patrick McHenry

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