Congress revives US Export-Import Bank

Washington, December 5

In a victory for the business establishment over tea party conservatives, President Barack Obama signed legislation on Friday reviving the US Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank five months after Congress allowed it to expire.

The bank is a small federal agency that makes and guarantees loans to help foreign customers buy US goods. A measure extending it through 2019 was included in a massive transportation Bill that cleared the House and Senate late Thursday and was signed on Friday by Obama.

The development was cheered by business groups like the US Chamber of Commerce, which say the Ex-Im Bank is necessary for US competitiveness since most overseas competitors rely on similar government help. But conservatives pushed by the billionaire GOP Koch Brothers decried the development, arguing that the bank amounts to government interference in the free market and many of its beneficiaries are large corporations that don’t really need the help.

“The Export-Import Bank’s revival in this Bill is especially offensive to taxpayers who want to end corporate welfare handouts and let the free market finance overseas investments by American companies,” said Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican.

Rubio is among the Republican presidential candidates and other leading Republicans who’ve lined up against the bank, a once-obscure entity that’s become a cause celebre for conservatives led by the Koch Brothers in recent years. For decades it was renewed by bipartisan agreement, with little or no debate and often not even a roll-call vote. But after the Koch Brothers and other conservative groups began to seize on the opportunity to kill off a federal agency, leading Republicans such as House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy who once supported the bank, turned against it.

Amid that pressure and with tea party lawmakers on the ascent on Capitol Hill, Congress failed to act when the bank’s charter was up for renewal on June 30, allowing it to expire for the first time in its 81-year history.

All along, though, a majority of lawmakers in the House and Senate, including Republicans and Democrats with major manufacturers such as General Electric, Caterpillar or Boeing in their districts, supported the bank. An unusual series of manoeuvres and alliances followed, including a rarely used procedure in the House to force a floor vote on the bank over the objections of top Republican leaders.

The end result was that the measure ended up on the Highway Bill and five months after expiring, the Ex-Im Bank is getting back in business.

“We brought the Export-Import Bank back to life, so American manufacturers and workers can compete against our foreign competitors on a level playing field,” said GOP Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois, who is facing a tough re-election fight and took the opportunity to issue a joint statement with leading chief executives. The bank says that last year it authorised $20 billion worth of transactions which supported $27.5 billion of US exports and 164,000 US jobs.