The House-passed version of a $325 billion Highway Bill, legislation to fund the nation’s infrastructure, is pending in the Senate.
While final passage of the measure awaits negotiations between the chambers over funding, language to reinstate the Export-Import Bank cleared its final hurdle.
Conservative lawmakers secured a victory this summer by blocking reauthorization of the Depression-era federal agency. The Bank, which was created by FDR, provides taxpayer-subsidized loans to foreign companies to purchase American products. The Bank has been plagued for years by charges of corruption and cronyism. Over 75 percent of the taxpayer-subsidized loans benefit just 10 U.S. mega-corporations.
The Bank officially closed its doors on June 30, but reopening the bank has been a top priority of the business lobby. The National Association of Manufacturers even suspended all political fundraising for members of Congress because of the closure of the Ex-Im Bank. House action last week reversed this temporary conservative win.
In its final votes on the Highway Bill, over 100 House Republicans joined the Democrats to block a series of amendments reforming the Ex-Im Bank. In doing so, they ensured the Bank will be reinstated before the end of the year with no changes and no reform of its business practices.
The rebirth of the Export-Import Bank is not a case of House Republican leadership ignoring the wishes of conservatives. In fact, House GOP leadership joined with conservatives to try to amend the legislation with respect to the Bank. The language to reauthorize the Bank was included in the Senate Highway Bill and sent to the House. The House, in other words, didn’t “attach” the Ex-Im Bank to the infrastructure bill, it was already there from the Senate.
Conservatives submitted amendments to remove the Ex-Im language completely, as well as to reform the institution if it was included. House Leadership, through the Rules Committee, ruled many of these amendments “in order,” allowing floor votes on the proposals. Leadership was, then, leaving it up to the Republican conference at large to decide how to proceed on the Ex-Im Bank.
If House Republicans had successfully amended the language to reinstate the Bank, then the final fate of the Bank would be decided in negotiations between the House and Senate. Those talks could have resulted in the Bank staying closed or reopening with structural reforms.
That effort was stymied by more than 100 rank-and-file Republican lawmakers, though. This small moderate minority of the Republican majority beat back the reforms that would have pushed the fate of the Bank into negotiations with the Senate and, instead, simply resurrected the Bank as is.
The amendments introduced by conservatives and supported by leadership would have instituted a number of important reforms for the Bank, including updating its accounting practices, mandating increased lending to small businesses rather than large corporations, barring loans to countries that sponsor terrorism and phasing out the guarantee that U.S. taxpayers would cover loan losses.
Just over 100 Republican lawmakers blocked all of these reforms. Again, the reform language were amended, then the proposal to reopen the Export-Import Bank would be subject to final negotiations between the House and Senate. The reforms wouldn’t have “killed” the Bank, but subject it to important changes in how it conducts business. Because these amendments were rejected, however, the House and Senate have each passed the same language to reinstate the Bank at it will reopen its doors as soon as the final Highway Bill is enacted.
The 100 House Republicans who blocked reform chose expediency over deliberations to improve the operations of the Bank. This moderate wing of the Republican majority chose business as usual over reforms widely viewed as necessary.
There is perhaps one silver lining out of this. The moderate wing of the Republican party has been definitively identified. The following 110 House Republicans chose the business lobby over closing or even reforming the 80-year old Export-Import Bank.
Reps. Bob Aderholdt, Mark Amodei, Lou Barletta, Dan Benishek, Mike Bishop, Mike Bost, Charles Boutsany, Jim Bridenstine, Susan Brooks, Vern Buchanan, Larry Buschon, Ken Calvert, Earl Carter, Tom Cole, Chris Collins, Barbara Comstock, Paul Cook, Ryan Costello, Kevin Cramer, Eric Crawford, Ander Crenshaw, Carlos Curbelo, Rodney Davis, Jeff Denham, Charles Dent, Mario Diaz-Balart, Bob Dold, Dan Donovan, Tom Emmer, Steve Fincher, Mike Fitzpatrick, Rodney Freylinghusen, Bob Gibbs, Chris Gibson, Kay Granger, Sam Graves, Glenn Grothman, Frank Guinta, Richard Hanna, Cresent Hardy, Greg Harper, Jaime Herrara Buetler, Randy Hultgren, Duncan Hunter, Will Hurd, Bill Johnson, Dave Jolly, David Joyce, John Katko, Trent Kelly, Mike Kelly, Peter King (NY), Adam Kinzinger, John Kline, Steve Knight, Darrin LaHood, Frank LoBiondo, Billy Long, Frank Lucas, Blaine Leutkemeyer, Tom MacArthur, Tom Marino, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Patrick Meehan, John Mica, Candace Miller, John Moolenaar, Markawayne Mullin, Tim Murphy, Dan Newhouse, Devin Nunes, Steve Palazzo, Erik Paulsen, Ted Poe, Bruce Poliquin, Tom Reed, Dave Reichart, James Renacci, Tom Rice, Scott Regal, Mike Rogers, Hal Rogers (KY), Tom Rooney, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Steve Russell, Matt Salmon, Mark Sanford, John Shimkus, Bill Shuster, Mike Simpson, Elise Stefanik, Steve Stivers, Glenn Thompson (PA), Pat Tiberi, David Trott, Mike Turner, Fred Upton, Dave Valadao, Ann Wagner, Greg Walden, Jackie Walorski, Mimi Walters, Randy Weber, Ed Whitfield, Joe Wilson, Steve Womak, Kevin Yoder, Don Young, Lee Zeldin, Ryan Zinke.
There, perhaps, was a time that the Export-Import Bank made sense. An era of liberalized capital markets and zero-percent interest rates is not a time to make those antiquated arguments, however. Three of the largest beneficiaries of Ex-Im loan guarantees, Boeing, Caterpillar and General Electric even have their own financing arms to extend credit to purchasers of its products. By using the Ex-Im Bank instead of their own credit operations, these companies can pass the risk of loan default off on taxpayers.
Even if one believes that the U.S. should subsidize some purchases to compete with other nations’s subsidies, it is indefensible to argue that the existing Export-Import Bank shouldn’t be reformed. The Bank’s own Inspector General found that the agency had woefully lacking business practices and oversight of its loans.
When conservatives buck the majority of the GOP caucus to insist on spending cuts or defunding Obama’s amnesty directives, they are branded as unreasonable and rouges threatening Republican governance. When a large block of moderates buck the majority of the GOP caucus to block any reform of the Export-Import Bank, it is simply brushed aside as business-as-usual.
Perhaps it is and, perhaps, that is exactly what voters are rebelling against.