(Corrects to delete reference in paragraph 20 to compromise
idea floated by Carolyn Maloney. Maloney does not favor new
limits on aircraft finance.)
By Emily Stephenson and Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON, June 27 The U.S. Export-Import Bank,
derided by conservative critics as an expensive boondoggle, may
win a reprieve from what looked like almost certain death in
Congress if enough Republicans can be persuaded to let it live
on, but with its wings clipped.
Some Republicans who were once opposed to extending Ex-Im's
mandate beyond the end of September are now reconsidering,
worried that killing off the bank that provides financing to
foreign buyers of U.S. exports could leave the nation's
companies at a disadvantage against foreign competitors.
Others are staying on the fence, waiting to see details of
proposals floated by lawmakers in both parties to reform Ex-Im
Bank by, for example, stopping it from funding deals with
foreign state-owned companies or favoring green exports.
Democrats are generally supportive of the bank.
Representative Trey Gowdy, who voted for the bank's
reauthorization in 2012, said he was discussing the issue with
fellow Republican and South Carolinian Mick Mulvaney, who voted
"I've got to see what Congressman Mulvaney and Chairman
Hensarling and all the rest of my friends on (the) financial
services (committee), what reform package they come up with,"
Republican Jeb Hensarling, who chairs the House Financial
Services Committee that has oversight of Ex-Im, has called for
Ex-Im's closure. His committee, however, includes members who
have started working on possible reforms to the bank instead.
The mandate to renew Ex-Im's charter passed handily in 2012,
when Democrats voted to renew it and were joined by 147
Republicans, with 93 against.
Positions have since hardened against the 80-year old export
bank, which provides loan guarantees and insurance to local
exporters as well as helping foreign companies finance purchases
of U.S. goods. Tea Party conservatives say the bank provides a
"sweetheart" deal to well-connected companies.
"Conservatives want to stand up for ordinary Americans, and
that means ending corporate welfare," said Representative Justin
Amash, sponsor of a 2013 bill to terminate the bank.
Ex-Im's foes gained a victory this week when Kevin McCarthy,
newly elected to the No. 2 job in the House, said he does not
favor renewing the bank's charter. For the bank
to survive, both the Senate and the House of Representatives
must vote to reauthorize it. President Barack Obama would also
have to sign the bill. The White House has been strongly
supportive of the bank.
House leaders could face pressure to bring reauthorization
to a vote if rank-and-file Republican lawmakers hear enough
complaints from their constituents in the business community.
Corporate giants like Boeing Co. and Caterpillar Inc.
are big beneficiaries of Ex-Im but many lawmakers have
small businesses in their districts that also benefit.
Representative Kay Granger, a Texas Republican who has
supported the bank in the past but was undecided earlier this
week, told Reuters on Thursday she had decided to back it again
this time after hearing from constituents.
"I talked to some people that were not in favor of it,"
Granger said. "But I think that it's very important to our
businesses ... and they made a very strong case."
MAKING THE CASE
Forty-one House Republicans signed a letter this week in
favor of renewing Ex-Im's's charter. That's enough, combined
with Democrats, for a majority in the House but if leaders in
that chamber decline to bring the issue to the floor, the bank
would be forced to shut its doors.
Several compromise proposals are in the works.
Republican John Campbell, a member of the House Financial
Services Committee, has proposed reducing the bank's lending cap
by a third and reversing a ban on funding coal-fired power
projects. He also wants to stop big loans to many state-owned
enterprises - likely hitting airlines such as Singapore Airlines
, Air China and Abu Dhabi's Etihad, which
used Ex-Im support to buy Boeing planes.
Ex-Im's aviation finance, which accounted for almost
one-third of its $27.3 billion export support in 2013, is
controversial. Delta Air Lines has complained that the
help to foreign competitors is unfair to U.S. companies.
At a House Financial Services Committee hearing this week,
Democrat David Scott of Georgia pressed Fred Hochberg, the head
of the Ex-Im Bank, on the feasibility of limits on aircraft
finance. In the Democratic-run Senate, Democrat Joe Manchin said
he was working on a "middle ground" reauthorization bill that he
hopes Republicans could accept.
But many Republicans are still undecided.
Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said her office had
received calls from businesses in her district that had
benefited from Ex-Im support.
"I've always voted for it, but in these tight and lean
times, I think they have to justify themselves anew," she said.
Republican Representative Todd Rokita, who voted against
Ex-Im in 2012, said he was having second thoughts because other
countries provide export help and closing Ex-Im could mean
"If the governments of the rest of the industrialized world
are doing this, then it's a question of fairness to our own
folks," he said.
(Writing by Susan Cornwell and Krista Hughes; Additional
reporting by Krista Hughes and David Lawder; Editing by Andrea