Ex-Im Bill Offers GOP Coal In Exchange For Support

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Peter Fricke Contributor
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A bipartisan Senate bill introduced Thursday could re-define the Export-Import Bank debate on terms more likely to meet with GOP approval, but the effort could alienate Democratic support.

A press release put out by the sponsors claims the bill would “reauthorize the Bank’s charter until Sept. 30, 2019, increase small business lending, support American jobs, and minimize risk to taxpayers by enhancing bank oversight.”

Ex-Im has been under sustained attack since last summer, when a number of prominent Republicans, including Reps. Paul Ryan and Jeb Hensarling, attempted to prevent Congress from extending its charter.

Although the effort was not entirely successful, the bank’s opponents did manage to force a compromise limiting the extension to six months, meaning the bank will close after June 30 unless Congress reauthorizes it. (RELATED: Is the Export-Import Bank Done?)

Ex-Im has relatively strong bipartisan support in the Senate, but faces stiff opposition from a sizeable faction of the House GOP, most significantly from Hensarling, who chairs the committee through which a reauthorization bill must pass.

The Senate bill, according to Reuters, “seeks a balance between conservatives who want to close the export credit agency, other Republicans who want reforms, and many Democrats who prefer a longer-term mandate and an expansion of the bank’s activities.”

“This bill contains over a dozen reforms which have brought together a bipartisan coalition of senators who agree that American businesses, large and small, cannot unilaterally disarm against our global competitors,” Republican Sen. Mark Kirk argued in the press release.

Two reforms, in particular, may be intended to bolster Republican support for Ex-Im in the House, which could prove critical if Speaker John Boehner feels enough pressure from the caucus to bring a bill to the floor without Hensarling’s consent.

The first is a provision banning Ex-Im officials from rejecting requests to finance the export of coal and coal-related technologies. (RELATED: Lobbying Powerhouses Duke it Out Over Ex-Im Reauthorization)

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, whose home state of West Virginia is a major coal producer, said the reform “would ensure countries around the world producing coal to generate energy as cleanly as possible,” though Reuters points out that, “Coal is a sensitive subject for Democrats, and could be a deal breaker for some members.”

Even more problematic, though, is the reform’s redundancy. In a press release about the Cromnibus spending bill passed in December, Republican Rep. Hal Rogers identifies an almost identical provision “to prohibit the Export-Import Bank and OPIC from blocking coal and other power-generation projects.”

Another reform contained in Thursday’s bill “puts greater focus on small businesses by increasing the required lending to small businesses from 20 percent to 25 percent,” building on recent efforts by the bank’s supporters to downplay its reputation as “Boeing’s bank” and instead portray Ex-Im as a vital ally of small businesses. (RELATED: Small Business Becomes Pawn in Ex-Im’s Fate)

However, according to research by Veronique de Rugy of the Mercatus Center, small businesses already made up 25 percent of Ex-Im financing in FY 2014, yet “Boeing remains the primary beneficiary of the bank’s taxpayer-backed financing,” receiving 40 percent of Ex-Im’s authorizations.

“This doesn’t even amount to putting lipstick on a pig,” Heritage Action communications director Dan Holler told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“Reaffirming an existing appropriations rider and asking the bank to work with more small businesses is simply maintaining the status quo,” he explained, adding that, “to suggest otherwise is misleading.”

The bill’s lead sponsors are Republican Senators Mark Kirk, Lindsey Graham, Roy Blunt, and Kelly Ayotte, along with Democratic Senators Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin, Joe Donnelly, and Mark Warner.

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