Earlier this month, Congress gave new life to the Export-Import Bank by reauthorizing it for four years, but now, one Senate chairman is for allowing only a partial revival.
A Senate delay in confirming one Ex-Im Bank board nominee will restrict the export financing agency from approving the large deals that had led conservative lawmakers to back its closing. And it’s not clear when that problem might be resolved.
Senate Banking Chairman Richard C. Shelby is holding up more than a dozen nominees, including one to the Ex-Im Bank’s board of directors, until the White House names a nominee for a Fed position that oversees banking regulation.
“That’s what we want,” said Shelby, who has pressed the administration to name the vice chairman of supervision at the central bank, a position established by the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial overhaul (PL 111-203) but never filled. “I’ve told the administration if they are serious about moving nominations they should first follow the law. … But they seem in no hurry to do that.”
Fred Hochberg, the president and chairman of the agency, told CQ the bank’s board must approve any loans or financing of more than $10 million, and that it can’t do so because the bank has only two board members. The Senate has so far not confirmed a third, who would give the board the required number to make such decisions.
The bank’s financing is designed to help U.S. companies sell goods around the globe. The full board would have five members.
“I am waiting for the president to sign [the re-authorization] before I start calling over to Congress,” Hochberg said a few hours before President Barack Obama signed the Ex-Im Bank extension through 2019 into law as part of a broader highway bill (HR 22).
Conservatives blocked renewal of the bank, allowing its charter to expire at the end of June because they consider its loans to manufacturers including Boeing, Caterpillar and General Electric to be a form of corporate welfare for large companies that could finance their exports themselves. But backers of the bank, using a rare parliamentary procedure in the House, were able to bring it back to life. They then attached the reauthorization to the highway bill that was cleared by the Senate on Dec. 3 and signed by the president the next day.
Hochberg estimated that about 75 percent of the bank’s roughly $20 billion in annual loans and other financial guarantees are valued at more than $10 million. He said the bank would be able to process hundreds of smaller transactions that don’t require board approval and can do “due diligence” on those over the $10 million threshold so they are ready to go if the Senate approves a third board member.
Obama nominated Patricia M. Loui-Schmicker to a second term on the board in March, but the Senate Banking Committee has yet to hold a confirmation hearing for her. She was confirmed unanimously by the Senate in 2011, and her term expired earlier this year. The administration has yet to make nominations for the other two vacancies.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said it’s up the White House to nominate the other two directors and that the committee was responsible for moving the Loui-Schmicker nominee.
The committee’s top Democrat, Sherrod Brown of Ohio called it “outrageous” that the committee has yet to approve any of the 13 nominees for a host of financial and other posts that have been pending in this Congress, including the Ex-Im Bank slot.
“After months of ideological obstruction, we’re finally renewing Ex-Im. It’s well past time that the Banking Committee and Senate vote to confirm Ms. Loui-Schmicker’s nomination so the bank can continue to help businesses of all sizes grow, compete, and create jobs,” the Ohio senator said.
Hochberg said it would likely be mid-January before any financing deals would be ready for board approval. He declined to say whether he thought Senate opponents of the bank were holding up the nominees to block it from providing financing.
Hochberg said loans to large manufacturers often find their way to dozens of small businesses that serve as subcontractors, suppliers and vendors.
According to Hochberg, the agency had more than 200 requests from companies for financing valued at more than $9 billion when its authority lapsed and that it has been barred from reviewing them. He said the bank will now have to see how many of those requests are still valid, if the deals have collapsed, or whether the firms found private financing or foreign credit financing.
Business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers, have been vocal in calling for the bank’s renewal, warning that without the bank’s guarantees, U.S. companies might move jobs overseas where financing can be provided by other countries.
Bruce Josten, executive vice president of government affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said U.S. businesses had been “severely disadvantaged” with the bank unable to approve new deals. He said the reauthorization avoids what would have been “a unilateral disarmament for U.S. businesses on a hyper-competitive global stage.”
Texas Republican Jeb Hensarling, the Financial Services chairman who led efforts to kill the bank, said he didn’t expect to succeed this time around, but added he would try to block the bank next time its renewal comes up.
“I know if I was the CEO of a Fortune 50 corporation, I would think twice before building my long-term business plan on Ex-Im,” he added.