Conservative lawmakers and groups who oppose the Export-Import Bank are squaring off against their Republican and Democratic counterparts who want to use a must-pass funding bill to restore the Export-Import Bank to its full operations.
For more than a year, the controversial agency has not been able to approve transactions of more than $10 million because of empty seats on its board of directors.
The bank requires a quorum—three of its five board members—to approve these high-dollar transactions. Currently, only two of Ex-Im’s board seats are filled.
According to reports, the bank’s supporters in Congress are pushing congressional leaders to include a policy rider that would change Ex-Im’s quorum rules in a continuing resolution, thus allowing the bank to begin approving deals of more than $10 million again.
However, The Hill reported that those negotiations have stalled over disagreements between Republican lawmakers over inclusion of the language.
If a policy rider changing Ex-Im’s quorum rules is included in the short-term continuing resolution currently being negotiated, the stopgap funding measure could lose the support of conservatives who are already skeptical.
“They’re going to change the rules because they can’t get people approved?” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, told The Daily Signal. “That’s just wrong. First of all, the Ex-Im Bank and the cronyism associated with it is wrong, and now they’re changing the rules midstream? That is wrong, too.”
Jordan chairs the roughly 40-member House Freedom Caucus, and the group has publicly opposed the bank.
Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich, a member of the House Financial Services Committee who opposed Ex-Im, said changing the quorum requirement for Ex-Im’s board is a “huge mistake.”
“It’s a completely inappropriate place to be dealing with Ex-Im, first of all,” Huizenga told The Daily Signal of the continuing resolution. “Second of all, where they’re trying to go with this is a horrible precedent. You literally will put in power one person to be handing out millions and millions of dollars on this. There’s hundreds of millions of dollars often times that some of these deals are.”
Allowing one or two members of Ex-Im’s board to approve multi-million dollar deals eliminates the “check and balance” the board is supposed to provide, he continued.
Jordan and other Freedom Caucus members are pushing for a continuing resolution that would fund the government through March, preventing the passage of any spending deal during the lame-duck session, the period after the election but before the next Congress convenes.
The Ohio Republican and his group of conservative lawmakers have already said they won’t be pleased with a three-month continuing resolution, and Jordan said the potential for a rider related to Ex-Im only furthers their concerns.
“It’s just the wrong direction to move,” he said.
Huizenga, too, said adding a provision changing the rules for Ex-Im’s quorum would make it harder for him to support the funding bill.
“When you add extraneous things like this into any of those bills, it reinforces the fear that what is supposed to be a continuing resolution, meaning we’re just going to fund it the way that it’s set, is actually more of a Christmas tree,” he said, referring to the addition of extra provisions to the bill. “That’s thin ice that they are in danger of walking on.”
“I hope that some cooler heads will prevail, and they won’t put that in,” Huizenga continued.
Last week, leaders of the National Association of Manufacturers and U.S. Chamber of Commerce—who support Ex-Im—issued a statement urging lawmakers to pass a continuing resolution that would allow the bank to approve deals of more than $10 million once more.
“The continuing resolution represents the most viable path forward to restore full operations at the U.S. Ex-Im Bank, which is vital to American businesses and their supply chains trying to compete in a fierce global economy,” National Association of Manufacturers President Jay Timmons and U.S. Chamber President Thomas Donohue said.
Following their statement, 15 business groups sent a letter to congressional leaders urging them to use the stopgap funding bill to change Ex-Im’s quorum requirement for the board.
But while business groups are advocating for use of the continuing resolution as a vehicle to restore Ex-Im back to its full operations, conservative groups are urging members to resist.
In a statement Thursday, Club for Growth President David McIntosh criticized the “Washington insiders” who benefit from the bank for attempting to “change the rules” and urged House Speaker Paul Ryan to prohibit the addition of Ex-Im policy riders to the continuing resolution.
“Congress should not be a party to any effort to use the insider game of attaching language to a continuing resolution funding bill in order to create those new rules that give more power to the Obama administration,” McIntosh said.
Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce also called on Republicans to “reject any effort to open the floodgates on Ex-Im Bank crony financing—either now or in a lame duck,” senior policy adviser Andy Koenig said.
In July, appropriators in the House and Senate passed appropriations bills changing Ex-Im’s quorum requirements for its board of directors.
The Senate Appropriations Committee passed a version of the State and Foreign Operations appropriations bill in June that included language from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that would allow Ex-Im’s board to start approving transactions of more than $10 million.
The House Appropriations Committee followed suit not long after, passing its own version of the bill funding state and foreign operations that included an amendment from Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., which mirrored Graham’s language.
The additions to the appropriations bills specifically would allow the membership of Ex-Im’s board to constitute a quorum if there are three vacant seats, as there are now.
President Barack Obama nominated Republican Mark McWatters to fill the board’s third seat in July, but Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., has held up his nomination.
He previously told reporters that the Banking Committee would take action on nominees pending before it after his primary in March. But in the months since the contest, which Shelby won, the Alabama Republican has continued to hold strong.
A spokeswoman for Shelby said his opposition won’t change as Republicans and Democrats debate whether to include Ex-Im language in the government funding bill.
“Chairman Shelby fundamentally opposes the Export-Import Bank, and he will continue to fight against any congressional action that would allow the bank to resume its role as an engine of corporate welfare,” spokeswoman Torrie Matous said.
Matous went on to note that nearly 99 percent of U.S. exports are financed without the bank, “demonstrating that its expiration is in the best interest of American taxpayers.”
Ex-Im provides taxpayer-backed loans and loan guarantees to foreign countries and companies for the purchase of U.S. products.
For most of its 82-year history, the bank was reauthorized without fanfare.
But in 2014, conservative lawmakers mounted a campaign opposing its reauthorization, arguing Ex-Im furthers cronyism and corporate welfare.
The bank’s Republican and Democratic supporters, meanwhile, said Ex-Im helps small businesses compete in the global market and creates jobs.