“IT IS HEREBY DECLARED,” wrote President Roosevelt on a chilly February day in 1934, “that an agency, to wit, a banking corporation, be created….” Thus emerged, by virtue of Executive Order 6581, the Export-Import Bank of Washington. Eighty years later, the Ex-Im Bank is facing mounting opposition by conservative groups who claim it’s nothing more than a benefactor of corporate welfare.
They have a point: over 80% of the bank’s loan guarantees go to Boeing, which is no wonder competitors like Delta are irked by the bank’s favoritism. On the other hand, supporters say the bank is needed to compete internationally on an “uneven playing field.” Countries like China, they claim, have no qualms pumping government subsidies into the coffers of leading companies, so voluntarily terminating similar practices at home would amount to “unilateral disarmament.”
Both sides of the debate face a similar challenge: August recess. In order to build a solid, bipartisan coalition to either pass or block a new charter before Congress goes home, policymakers need to move quickly. According to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), there’s enough support in the Senate to reauthorize the bank. Yet there are singular obstacles in the House, not least of which is House Financial Services Committee chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), a strident opponent of the Ex-Im bank who could single-handedly squash any efforts at the committee level.
While on the surface it seems Congress is on track to renew the Ex-Im bank’s charter (with some key reforms to satiate conservatives), it’s not entirely certain how things will play out. Many policymakers, including John Boehner and John McCain, appear undecided. And even if they did come out in favor of the bank, there would be precious little time on their side.