By Gabe Rubin
October 20, 2015 at 4:58 pm ET
The prospects for reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank, gloomy all summer, finally appear to be looking up. Tandem efforts by the export finance agency’s backers in the House and Senate have put the bank on the road to reauthorization, though several legislative hurdles remain.
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) began the process to fast-track reauthorization legislation in the Senate on Monday, following a similar simultaneous effort in the House. In the House, Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) brought a successful discharge petition to reauthorize Ex-Im on Oct. 9, relying heavily on Democratic signatures. That petition will bypass the committee process and force a floor vote as early as Oct. 26.
In the Senate, reauthorization will likely take a more circuitous path to a floor vote. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has repeatedly said he does not want to spend a week of floor time debating Ex-Im reauthorization as a standalone measure. He is willing to to include it as an amendment to other legislation, likely a highway funding bill. McConnell personally opposes reauthorizing the bank’s charter.
But this still provides an opening for bank supporters. “The majority leader is making sure to make it part of the transportation bill,” Kirk told reporters Tuesday. “This is about following the leader and doing it the way Mitch wants it done.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz), a longtime Ex-Im supporter, chimed in to applaud Kirk’s efforts. “It’s a great idea. We should take it up and pass it,” he said in a short interview.
Kirk’s reauthorization bid relies on Senate Rule 14, a procedure that allows legislation to skirt committee consideration on its way to the floor. However, given McConnell’s opposition to a freestanding bill, the Senate will likely wait for the House to send over its version of reauthorization. Somehow, that language will then need to be attached to transportation legislation.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) on Tuesday cautioned House proponents of Ex-Im reauthorization that a House-passed stand-alone bill wouldn’t pass muster in the Senate. But with a little wrangling, it’s not out of the question to see the House Ex-Im measure be added to a House transportation bill. That bill is on the committee schedule this week. The House is expected to vote on something transportation related next week — either the committee bill or a short-term extension — in order to continue federal highway authority, which expires Oct. 29. That’s where Ex-Im has it’s best chance.
“Probably the best way to deal with [Ex-Im] is in the context of the transportation bill,” Thune said. “If they send us a freestanding bill, I think you’ve heard the leader say it’s not likely it gets picked up here.”
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) is confident that the House and Senate will be able to reconcile their different versions of highway legislation in a way that would preserve the Ex-Im rider. “If you look at the discharge petition in the House, and you’ve now got on record a significant majority of House members who want this to happen, and you have a significant number of senators that want it to happen. Usually when that happens, you wind up with the result that the majority wants,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
“Leadership can stand in the way of a lot of things, but leadership in the House and Senate don’t tend to stand in the way of things that 60 percent or two-thirds of the members are for,” Blunt added.
The Export-Import Bank, which provides export financing for U.S. companies or foreign companies with operations in the United States, has operated without a charter since July 1. Outside conservative groups like the Club for Growth and the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, along with a growing portion of congressional Republicans, successfully allowed the bank’s charter to lapse despite lobbying and threats from corporations and trade groups. The bank has continued to operate since July 1, but cannot issue new loan guarantees without a charter.
—Fawn Johnson contributed.
Gabe Rubin previously worked at Morning Consult as a reporter covering finance.