The Export-Import Bank of the United States, a target of tea party critics, is close to being able to make large loans again.
The bank, which issues credit guarantees to U.S. companies for exports, is a financial success that does not use taxpayer funding. It returned $675 million to the U.S. Treasury in 2014. However, an influential number of conservatives have pointed to the bank as an example of “crony capitalism” that primarily supports large companies like Boeing and General Electric. In 2014 Boeing received 40 percent of the financial instruments distributed by Ex-Im, as it is known.
Lawmakers in the House of Representatives, including Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, moved Tuesday to assist the embattled federally charted bank for U.S. exporters. The House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment to a funding bill that effectively will enable the bank to approve loans of more than $10 million again.
The bank board, with only two members, has been unable to get a quorum of three members out of five positions – as required by its charter – in order to approve large loans.
2 The proposed quorum of the Export-Import Bank board of directors, under language inserted into an appropriations bill. Three of the board’s five seats are vacant.
“A backlog of more than 30 transactions worth more than $20 billion is stalled until Ex-Im regains its quorum,” Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., told the Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. His amendment to allow a quorum to consist of two members for three years was approved as part of the appropriations bill that funds the State Department and other related agencies.
“It would allow them to function with two board members,” Dent told McClatchy.
Granger, the chairwoman of the subcommittee that oversees the bill, supported the amendment and it passed by voice vote. “This is affecting U.S. business and American jobs,” she said. “We have an agency that’s been reauthorized, but because the Senate has not approved new board members the board is not functioning.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the chairman of the funding panel for the State Department and other agencies in the Senate, had already attached the same amendment to his bill, which passed the Senate Appropriations Committee in late June. Both the Senate and House have to approve the legislation for it to become law, but Dent said he thought the outlook was good with the provision in both bills.
“I’m really pleased,” said David Ickert, vice president of finance at Air Tractor Inc., a West Texas company that makes small crop-dusting and firefighting planes and relies extensively on Ex-Im for foreign sales. Although his company finances deals under $10 million, he would like to be able to do business in Argentina, which an Ex-Im board had earlier cut off from loans but which Ickert thinks will be the site of good business opportunities.
Graham, whose state is home to a Boeing “Dreamliner” factory, is a strong supporter of the bank. The Boeing Co., builder of aircraft, is one of the largest users of the bank lending program.
Graham made the move out of frustration with Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., who has refused to act on a Republican nominee to the Ex-Im board. Shelby is a critic of the bank. The Senate has to confirm presidential appointees.
Last year Ex-Im was shut down for six months after House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and other conservative lawmakers led an effort to let its congressional charter lapse, saying the bank was an example of “crony capitalism.”
After being immobilized for nearly six months, unable to make new loans, it was revived by congressional supporters.