U.S. Rep. Denny Heck sees more trouble ahead in Congress. Getting passage of a bill to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank is just one of many dangerous legislative cliffs looming over the horizon.
Last week, Heck watched the debacle that took funding for the Department of Homeland Security needlessly down to the wire. He saw no practical lesson learned by the House Republican majority from that internal GOP fight over financing the security agency.
In the end, far-right forces in the House Republican caucus — who were hell-bent on using the vote to overturn President Barack Obama’s executive order on immigration — forced a showdown with Speaker John Boehner. The bloodied speaker ultimately got a funding bill passed with votes from a minority of his own caucus augmented by far more votes from minority Democrats.
Other cliffs await Congress this spring and summer, including on budgets, reimbursements for Medicare doctors, refinancing the Highway Trust Fund. But the Export-Import Bank is a particular, pressing interest to Washington, the most trade-dependent state in the country. Boeing relies heavily on the Ex-Im Bank to finance overseas sales.
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Though not entirely pessimistic, the Olympia Democrat said during a visit this week with The Olympian Editorial Board that he foresees a “slightly uphill” fight to get the bank authorized on a permanent basis. Last summer, he and supporters won only an extension through June; inaction this year could kill the bank, which was created in 1934.
The GOP’s intraparty dysfunction that paralyzed the House over Homeland Security is the culprit that lies in ambush again.
Opponents of the Ex-Im Bank complain it is a welfare program for major corporations. They argue that alternative, private financing tools are available. They note past loan problems; they want more transparency on loans and budgets.
But the bank operates in the black, bad loans are rarer than with private banks, and Ex-Im helped more than 3,000 businesses last year — most of them small. It says its loans, loan guarantees and insurance supported more than 200,000 U.S. jobs, and its credit-assistance is something all other developed economies — many of them competitors for our exports — have.
An optimist might think that House GOP leaders could rely on a minority of their own team working with enough minority Democrats to muster a majority. Nearly 190 Democrats signed on as co-sponsors of Democratic bills extending the bank’s life; another 58 Republicans signed on as co-sponsors of a rival GOP plan from Rep. Stephen Fincher of Tennessee extending the bank five years.
So far, virtually all of the state’s congressional delegation favors some kind of reauthorization. That includes the state’s six House Democrats, both U.S. senators and, according to Heck, Republican Reps. Dave Reichert and Dan Newhouse, who might prefer the Republican version.
Although they had not been as public, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the Spokane-area Republican and No. 4 ranking GOP member in the House, and Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, also want the bank to continue, aides say.
In an email this week, McMorris Rodgers’ spokeswoman said, “The Congresswoman recognizes that Washington is the most trade dependent state in the nation, and she believes that reauthorization of the Ex-Im bank must include increased transparency and accountability, as well as safeguards to protect hard working taxpayers. She is optimistic about current proposals and is hopeful about reaching reauthorization that takes into account these important reforms.”
If a hybrid bill can be agreed upon, there are clearly enough votes to pass an extension. Heck says the challenge is getting a vote by freeing bills from the House Financial Services Committee whose chair opposes the bank.
This is a time for our delegation to pull together — and toward the center — to win the fight.