TIME Congress

House Majority Leader-Elect Puts Export-Import Bank In Jeopardy

Kevin McCarthy
Newly elected House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., arrives for GOP leadership elections, on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 19, 2014. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

One of the first major acts of new House Majority Leader-elect Kevin McCarthy could very well be to kill the eight-decades-old Export-Import bank, which provides loans, loan guarantees and credit insurance to help foreigners purchase U.S. goods.

Congress must renew the Ex-Im bank’s charter by Sept. 30 or it will be unable to back new loans. And despite support from a large part of the business community, the White House and the Democratically-controlled Senate, its fate now hangs in the balance because no one in House Republican leadership actively, publicly supports it.

McCarthy told Fox News Sunday that he opposed reauthorizing the export credit agency’s charter because he felt the private sector could take care of it. This stance is a reversal of his position just two years ago. New House Whip Steve Scalise, of Louisiana, also opposes reauthorization.

A spokesman for Speaker John Boehner told reporters Monday that the Financial Services Committee, chaired by Ex-Im bank opponent Jeb Hensarling, will lead a discussion on how to handle the issue as the deadline to act looms.

In expressing his opposition, the Majority Leader-elect shores up support on his right and takes away a chief talking-point from Hensarling, a potential conservative rival for McCarthy if both decide to vie for Speaker when Boehner steps down. Boehner, 64, has declined to promise another two years as Speaker.

“McCarthy made it clear last week to members [that] he believes that products that come to the floor should proceed through regular order,” a McCarthy aide told TIME. “That means through the appropriate committee of jurisdiction.” If the Financial Services Committee doesn’t act, in other words, no more Ex-Im Bank.

That’s bad news for many in the business community. In a conference call with reporters Monday, the heads of the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers said they have engaged in a “full court press” on Congress, assembling a “dream team” of influential lobbyists that includes former Democratic House Leader Dick Gephardt, former Republican governor Haley Barbour and Tony Fratto, former spokesman for President George W. Bush.

They have also organized letters to be sent to Congress Monday from 865 organizations, urging support and reminding elected officials that the Ex-Im bank has supported $37 billion in exports, more than 200,000 jobs and 3,400 companies. There are at least 59 other countries that have created government export credit agencies.

McCarthy’s predecessor, Eric Cantor, struck a deal in 2012 with Democrats to renew the charter, a move which received broad bipartisan support.

National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons said as long as the reauthorization “gets to the floor, I’m very confident that it will get through the Congress.”

“Leader McCarthy is a very thoughtful member of Congress and he is somebody that considers all of the ramifications, pro and con,” Timmons said. “I’m quite sure that he and the majority of his caucus don’t want to see American jobs lost to our competitors because we closed the one source of financing for a lot of small and medium size businesses.”

The difficulty, of course, is getting the vote to the floor when the man in charge of getting it there, McCarthy, is opposed to reauthorizing the charter. Another problem is that Ex-Im is not a well-known government entity and the Chamber of Commerce has not decided that the issue is important enough to be a deciding factor in future fundraising and support.

“Right now, we’re not a single-issue organization,” Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue said. “It is important for us to convey to the members of the Congress the issues that are very important to our members… and to take measure all the time of those that are supportive of the businesses that we represent and those that aren’t. But I don’t see this as a single-issue thing that is going to decide where we are and where we’re not in the political process.”

For those Republican congressmen that do support the charter’s reauthorization, McCarthy’s comments Sunday marked a troubling turn of events. “It surprised me a little bit,” said Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), calling them a “concern.” Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), who supports the bank so long as other countries retain similar agencies, referred to the Ex-Im bank in terms bringing to mind The Princess Bride‘s Miracle Max.

“It may or not be breathing,” said Stivers (R-Ohio). “[It's] not completely dead.”

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