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Export-Import Bank Bill Hits Snag in Senate

Updated: 6:13 p.m.

With a bill to avert a doubling of student loan interest rates stalled, Senate Democratic leaders are finding it difficult to move on to a House passed bill reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank.

“There is no good reason why we shouldn’t pass this bill passed by the House,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said at a press conference today.

The House passed the measure 330-93 with broad bipartisan support; the bill was crafted by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), and it has been a priority of the Obama administration.

Given the overwhelming House vote, Senate Democratic leaders had hoped to pass the measure by unanimous consent and get it off their “to do” list.

But Republicans want to offer amendments to the bill and talks have been under way about what amendments the two parties are willing to accept, according to a Senate GOP aide. Nevertheless, Reid filed cloture on the measure today, setting up a procedural vote for Monday night. If an agreement is reached on amendments, the vote may not take place, a Senate Democratic aide said.

Democrats need Republican support to begin debate on the legislation, but that will likely depend on whether the GOP feels it will get sufficient opportunity to offer amendments, the Republican aide said.

The bank is designed to facilitate the purchase of U.S. exports to international buyers.

The measure would reauthorize the bank’s charter through Sept. 30, 2014, and incrementally increase its lending cap. By fiscal 2014, the bank would be authorized to lend up to $140 billion, an increase from the $100 billion under current law.

The Ex-Im Bank does have some influential Republican backers in the Senate. Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) is a vocal supporter, who praised passage of the House bill on Wednesday.

“I’m very pleased the House of Representatives authorized Ex-Im Bank for another three years,” Graham said in a release. “Ex-Im allows American manufacturers to compete on a level playing field when it comes to selling their products overseas.”

Supporters of the proposal argue that failure to reauthorize the bank would put U.S. businesses at a disadvantage to their foreign competitors. The bank’s authorization expires May 31, but it will hit its loan limit in about two weeks.

Despite support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups, conservatives oppose the bank. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said the banks activities amount to “corporate welfare.”

The Club for Growth said it would “key vote” the House bill, arguing that the measure picks winners and losers, which the group believes is not the proper role of government.

“The bank’s financing helps some companies to the detriment of other firms and taxpayers,” the group said in a release before the House vote. “A prime example, among many, is the bank providing financing for foreign airlines to buy American air crafts, thus allowing those companies to better compete against American airlines.”

Also today, Senate Democratic leaders continued their criticism of Republicans for opposing a bill to avert an increase in student loan interest rates. The two parties agree rates should not go up, but disagree on how to offset the $6 billion cost.

“If they have another alternative … put it forward,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Republicans expect a compromise will be worked out between House GOP leaders and Senate Democratic leaders.

They argue that Democrats are looking to score political points on the issue, but they believe the efforts to punish the GOP for its vote this week have been overshadowed by President Barack Obama’s announcement that he supports gay marriage, the GOP aide said.

Along with the Ex-Im Bank and student loan interest rates, Reid said the Senate will also take up a bill to extend Food and Drug Administration user fees, which fund reviews of prescription drugs and medical devices.

The Senate will also consider a small-business tax cut bill this month, which would provide a 10 percent income tax credit would on new payroll added in 2012. That credit would apply to new hires or increased wages. The bill also extends so-called bonus depreciation for one year, which allows businesses to write off the entire cost of major purchases in the year they are made rather than depreciate those expenses over many years.

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