Editorial | New Hope for Ex-Im Bank

by

Guts and Bipartisanship Could Save Beleaguered Institution

With an already dysfunctional U.S. House of Representatives sinking deeper into chaos following the resignation of its speaker, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), and the surprise withdraw of the leading candidate to succeed him, a small but gutsy group of Republicans pulled an arcane procedural maneuver to force a vote as soon as Oct. 26 on reauthorization of the U.S. Export-Import Bank.

The Ex-Im Bank, which has been very active in the satellite industry in recent years, has been in limbo since July 1 — able to fulfill existing loans but powerless to make new ones — when its charter lapsed as Congress watched. Although the Senate managed to pass a reauthorization bill almost a month later, House leaders failed to bring a similar measure the floor, effectively bowing to hard-line conservatives who view the institution as a dispenser of market-distorting corporate welfare.

Industry advocates say U.S. manufacturers have lost three satellite contracts as a result of the bank’s closure. Whether or not the unavailability of Ex-Im financing was decisive in all three instances — there could well have been other factors — it is clear that U.S. companies are now at a distinct disadvantage when satellite buyers condition contracts on the availability of low-cost financial support from export credit agencies. Such backing remains readily available from France and Canada, not to mention Russia and China.

But as lawmakers prepared to adjourn for a weeklong recess Oct. 9, a Friday, U.S. Reps. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.), Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) and Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) announced they had filed what is known as a discharge petition to force a floor vote on Ex-Im reauthorization legislation they introduced in September. Although their statement characterized the petition as Republican-led, 178 of the 218 lawmakers who signed it were Democrats.

For any measure to win substantial support from both sides of the aisle is significant, not to mention encouraging, in this age of perpetual partisan warfare. According to an Oct. 12 report by TheHill.com, the impetus for the move came from House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who is said to have broached the idea with Mr. Fincher, a member of the House Financial Services Committee and an Ex-Im supporter. Mr. Hoyer promised to marshal broad Democratic support for the petition if Mr. Fincher could get more than a handful Republicans to sign on, the report said. Mr. Fincher agreed.

There has always been Republican support for the Ex-Im Bank, but its reauthorization is opposed by the members of the party’s most conservative flank, who have demonstrated their ability to make life difficult for the establishment — just ask Mr. Boehner. In leading the Republican charge on Ex-Im reauthorization, Messrs. Fincher, Kinzinger and Collins knowingly risk incurring the wrath not only of these lawmakers but also of Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), chairman of the Financial Services Committee and an outspoken Ex-Im opponent.

In a lengthy statement issued Oct. 9, a clearly miffed Mr. Hensarling characterized the discharge petition as a “very dangerous precedent” that undermines the leadership of the Republican majority in the House. “Signing a discharge petition — regardless of the issue — gives the Democrats control over our agenda,” the statement said.

Some might call that mutiny. But if Messrs. Fincher, Kinzinger, Collins and the other Republicans who signed the petition are guilty of anything, it is of having the fortitude to stand up to the hard-liners in Congress who, through actions such as forcing the 2013 partial government shutdown, have proved to be the enemy of responsible governance.

Even if the Ex-Im gambit ultimately succeeds, damage has been done. Mr. Fincher’s bill would keep the bank open through 2019, and impose reforms designed to limit taxpayers’ exposure on its financing arrangements. But the fact that its charter was allowed to lapse in the first place, coupled with continued unrest in Congress, will be viewed as risk factors for future deals that involve Ex-Im financing, particularly as the new legislation’s sunset approaches.

It shouldn’t have come to this, but it did, and if a discharge petition is what it takes to get a vote on Ex-Im reauthorization, so be it. Mr. Fincher is to be commended for working with the opposition party — in doing so defying some powerful forces in his own — to minimize the damage.