Legal Learning: The Export-Import Bank
Posted on December 9, 2015 09:55 am CST
Lake County News-Chronicle
By: James Manahan
In the next few weeks, watch for a big fight in the U.S. Senate over the Export-Import Bank. You might ask The What-Bank? Most of us have never heard about this bank, though it has been around since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created it as part of the New Deal in 1934.
When the Export-Import Bank came up for renewal this past June, conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives blocked it. Since then the bank has been unable to offer new assistance to foreign buyers of American goods, and has stayed open only to manage existing loans. Many businesses have complained of lost sales abroad, and General Electric announced that it would move some operations out of the U.S. to take advantage of foreign countries' export financing.
Our Congressman, Rick Nolan, D-Minnesota, says that the Bank helps many small and medium sized businesses in Minnesota to screen international customers and create good jobs by exporting goods and services the world needs. "The bank supports 167,000 jobs nationwide," he said, and "pays for itself through fees for service." It has returned more than $7 billion to the treasury over the past 20 years. The bank has the support of both the Chamber of Commerce and organized labor.
However, Tea Party conservatives argue that the bank is "crony capitalism," with the power to decide which companies qualify for federal help. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, the new Speaker of the House, said "We should be exporting democratic capitalism, not crony capitalism." Ron DeSantis, R-Florida, said "How rare is it that we actually reduce government around here? Yet here we are debating resurrecting a defunct agency that has already gone out to pasture."
The Republican leaders in the House of Representatives are opposed to the bank, and would not let the reauthorization bill out of the Financial Services Committee. The committee chair, Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, said "If we are ever, ever to deal with the threat of a social welfare state, we must first take care of the corporate welfare state. And the face of the corporate welfare state is the Export-Import Bank."
So supporters of the bank decided to use a "discharge petition" to get the bill (HR 597) out of committee. This requires the signatures of a majority of the 435 members of the House — 218 members. Almost all the Democrats (188 members) were willing to sign, but they needed some Republicans also. Normally Republicans will not go against their own leaders and agree with Democrats, but after Speaker John Boehner was forced by the Tea Party conservatives to resign, 42 Republicans got their courage up and signed the discharge petition, thereby reaching more than the magic number of 218. When the bill then came to a vote on the House floor on Oct. 27, it passed 313 to 118. It was supported by a majority of Republicans (127 to 117) and by all but one Democrat (186-1). Minnesota Republicans John Kline and Eric Paulsen voted for it, and Tom Emmer voted against it.
This is just the third time in history that a new law was passed by going entirely through the discharge petition route. The other two laws were the first national minimum wage bill in 1938 and a federal pay bill in 1960.
Now the bill goes to the Senate, where majority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, says he doesn't want to consider it. However, the bank's reauthorization is already included in the highway bill that has passed the Senate. A conference committee is now working on resolving differences between the Senate and House highway bills, so it looks like the Export-Import Bank has a good chance of coming back from the dead.