Senate's Reid looks for way to reauthorize Ex-Im bank

WASHINGTON Tue Jul 15, 2014 5:10pm EDT

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) speaks at a press conference about a bill introduced by Senate Democrats to restore the contraceptive coverage requirement guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 10, 2014.  REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) speaks at a press conference about a bill introduced by Senate Democrats to restore the contraceptive coverage requirement guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 10, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Joshua Roberts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate Democrats sought to rescue the U.S. Export-Import Bank on Tuesday, insisting it would save American jobs.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, scheduled meetings with other lawmakers. The 80-year-old bank will be forced to close unless Congress acts to renew its charter by Sept. 30.

Ex-Im offers financing to foreign buyers of U.S. goods, providing loan guarantees and insurance to local exporters as well as credit to purchasers abroad of U.S. exports.

Neither the House of Representatives nor the Senate has acted, and an August recess looms. Many Republican conservatives in both chambers oppose it. Some decry it as "corporate welfare," a government effort to pick winners and losers in the private sector.

In 2013 the bank's loans were behind $37.4 billion of exports and 205,000 U.S. jobs, benefiting the likes of aerospace giant Boeing (BA.N) and heavy equipment manufacturers such as General Electric (GE.N) and Caterpillar (CAT.N).

Boeing, which accounted for an estimated one-third of Ex-Im's commitments between 2007 and 2013, could find financing in private markets, bank critics say.

Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from coal-producing West Virginia, said he would meet Reid and other Senate Democratic leaders late on Tuesday to discuss Manchin's proposal to reauthorize the bank for five years while including a provision expanding the number of countries where Ex-Im can finance coal-fired power plants.

Manchin's provision would overturn restrictions put in place by the Obama administration limiting the bank's financing for coal-fired plants to buyers in only the world's poorest countries.

Manchin has gathered several Republican co-sponsors for his proposal, but some Democratic supporters of the bank, including Senator Maria Cantwell, don't like the idea of including the coal provision.

Aides to Democrats in Congress have said that if the Senate doesn't take up a bill to reauthorize the bank, a fallback plan would be attaching Ex-Im reauthorization to a must-pass piece of legislation, such as a resolution expected to keep the government running beyond September.

Bank supporters say it would be wrong to dismantle the export financing agency when many other countries already do more to support their exports than the United States does.

In the House, Representative Jeb Hensarling, a conservative who favors closing Ex-Im, was hosting fellow Republicans at a closed-door briefing on Tuesday to discuss the fate of the export financing agency.

Republican aides described the session as "Ex-Im 101" and said Hensarling had set it up to educate members about his opposition to the bank.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Howard Goller)