U.S. EXIM board vote delay could hobble trade bank for months

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby said on Tuesday he is “in no hurry” to hold a vote on U.S. Export-Import Bank board nominees, potentially keeping the trade lender from approving large transactions over $10 million for months.

Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) speaks during a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on Perspectives on the Strategic Necessity of Iran Sanctions, on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 27, 2015. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

After being idled for five months, EXIM won a four-year renewal of its charter last week as part of a transportation funding bill, thwarting conservative Republicans’ campaign to close the trade bank and end what they called its “corporate welfare.”

But by holding up the board nominations, Shelby could effectively shut EXIM out of aiding many of the big industrial companies that fought hard to revive the bank, including Boeing Co. BA.N, General Electric Co. GE.N and Caterpillar Inc CAT.N.

Two directors’ terms expired during the bank’s effective shutdown this year, leaving only two of five seats filled. The bank would need at least one nominee confirmed by the Senate to achieve a quorum and resume loans above $10 million.

Until then, it can support smaller exporters, but not deals such as a $350 million GE locomotive sale to Angola or a 27-jet Boeing order from Ethopian Airlines with a list price of $3.8 billion.

“I’m in no hurry,” Shelby told Reuters of his plans to take up the EXIM board nominations. “They won’t be moving fast, if at all.”

The Alabama Republican, who opposed EXIM’s revival, said the bank’s nominees are a “lower priority” than other confirmations pending before the committee, including two Federal Reserve Board members, two Securities and Exchange Commission members and the U.S. Treasury’s top anti-terrorist financing official.

The White House in March renominated Patricia Loui-Schmicker to a second term on the bank’s board as a Democrat. There are also two vacancies to be filled by Republicans, names for which have not yet been submitted to lawmakers.

Currently, some 13 White House nominees are pending before the Senate Banking Committee. Shelby reiterated his demand that the White House nominate a Federal Reserve vice chair for supervisory affairs before the logjam can be broken.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who also is an EXIM opponent, said nominees for the trade bank would go through the normal committee process, indicating that McConnell does not intend to overrule Shelby.

Senator Sherrod Brown, the Banking Committee’s top Democrat, said it was “outrageous” that so many nominees were stalled on the panel.

“The Export-Import Bank helps businesses of all sizes grow, compete, and create jobs. Every week Ms. Loui-Schmicker’s nomination is delayed puts more jobs at risk,” Brown said in a statement.

Reporting By David Lawder, additional reporting by Julia Edwards; Editing by Andrew Hay