Senate delays action on Ex-Im Bank bill

WASHINGTON Thu May 10, 2012 6:02pm EDT

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) speaks during his news conference on the payroll tax cut extension on Capitol Hill in Washington December 23, 2011. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) speaks during his news conference on the payroll tax cut extension on Capitol Hill in Washington December 23, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Yuri Gripas

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate on Thursday failed to reach a deal to quickly renew the charter of the government-run U.S. Export-Import Bank, which is strongly supported by many Republicans but despised by others in the party as an example of corporate welfare.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, said he would continue to work with Republicans on list of amendments that could be offered to the legislation. But any votes on the bill would be delayed until next week, he said.

The House of Representatives voted 330-93 on Wednesday to extend the nearly 80-year-old life of the bank until September 2014 and gradually raise its lending cap to $140 billion, from $100 billion at present.

Ex-Im Bank provides financing to U.S. companies to help them export goods and services and create jobs in the United States. Its current charter expires on May 31st, and bank officials say they also are close to hitting their current lending cap.

Reid accused "the far right, the Tea Party wing" of the Republican party of refusing to cooperate on a bill that traditionally has had bipartisan support and is backed by both business and labor groups.

"In earlier days, the Senate would have passed this bill by unanimous consent," Reid said, meaning it would have been approved on a voice vote without any amendment. "But these days ... everything has to be a fight. Everything."

If the bill is amended in the Senate, it would have to go back to the House for another vote. Reid said that raised the risk a final bill would not be sent to President Barack Obama before the bank's current charter expires.

U.S. aircraft manufacturer Boeing is the biggest beneficiary of the Ex-Im's overseas lending activity. Other major customers include General Electric, Caterpillar and global engineering company KBR Inc.

Many conservative Republicans in both the House and the Senate have objected to renewal of the Ex-Im Bank's charter.

All 93 of the "no" votes in the House on Wednesday were from Republicans, while 147 other party members joined 183 Democrats in supporting the bill.

Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, in a speech on the Senate floor, summarized the objections that many of his fellow conservatives have to the bank.

"Many Americans are trying to hang onto their homes, struggling to make payments on their own home mortgage, while very profitable big business is being given subsidized loans by the government. It makes no sense," Paul said.

He said Republicans had been right to criticize President Barack Obama for "trying to pick the winners and losers" in energy production by way of Energy Department loans.

"Yet now, a majority of the Republicans (in the Senate) are poised to vote for their own set of taxpayer-subsidized loans to the Export-Import Bank," Paul said on the Senate floor.

The bank's defenders argue it is conservatively run, has experienced very few defaults and has made money for taxpayers in recent years. They say it is needed to compete with similar government credit agencies in China, Europe and elsewhere.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer; editing by Mohammad Zargham and Andrew Hay)

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