By Erik Wasson
Opponents of the Export-Import Bank are counting on House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to help them bring an end to the 80-year-old bank in October.
Ryan has long been a critic of the bank, and might have his best chance to end it this year.
The Export-Import Bank supports exports by giving financing to foreign purchasers of U.S. goods and services. The work benefits major exporters like Boeing and Caterpillar and other corporate giants in aviation, energy and heavy equipment.
The bank’s charter expires at the end of September, and House Financial Service Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), whose committee oversees the bank, issued a statement Friday reiterating he remains against reauthorizing it at all.
But as the popular intellectual leader of the House GOP, Ryan's role is just as pivotal.
When the bank was reauthorized two years ago, Ryan led a faction of 93 Republicans in voting against reauthorization.
The bill ultimately passed with 330 votes after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) negotiated transparency provisions for the bank’s operations.
Some conservatives, led by Ryan and Hensarling, say the transparency measures were not enough and want to make 2014 the year that they end President Obama’s “crony” bank once and for all.
“This is our opportunity to advance our welfare-reform agenda, which starts by getting rid of corporate welfare,” Ryan said in a statement on Friday.
Ryan has not proposed ending Ex-Im in his budgets because the issue splits the party. A number of Republicans, supported by business groups like the Chamber of Commerce, support reauthorizing the bank.
“There is no doubt that Chairman Ryan’s voice will be important in this debate and his vocal stance this early in the debate has certainly garnered a lot of attention. The fight over Ex-Im has the potential to help redefine the Republican Party, which is something Ryan knows how to do, most notably on entitlement reform,” said Dan Holler of Heritage Action, which opposes Ex-Im.
Holler said that the fight against the bank would boost the GOP’s popularity outside the Beltway.
“The fight over Ex-Im is an opportunity for the Republican Party to reposition itself as the one fighting against corporate welfare and cronyism in Washington. By taking the bank head on, Republicans will force Democrats to become the defenders of corporate welfare. Not only is it right on policy, but the politics are incredibly attractive,” he said.
The Club for Growth also cited Ryan’s support as key to their long push to end the bank.
“We hope that Republicans follow the lead of people like Paul Ryan, Jeb Hensarling, Pat Toomey and Mike Lee and shut down this slush fund for crony capitalism once and for all,” Club spokesman Barney Keller said Friday.
A GOP aide said that at this point, ending Ex-Im is by no means a sure thing, though Ryan is making very clear that it's the outcome he wants.
One scenario being discussed by lobbyists and aides is a compromise in the post-election lame-duck session where stronger reforms and funding limits would be put in place at the bank. Without a charter, the bank could persist in a semi-dormant state after Oct. 1, when it would not be allowed to issue new loans but could keep on staff to maintain existing business.
In the last reauthorization, the bank was given increased ability to guarantee loans, but that increase could be pared back.
Ex-Im supporters note that the bank actually makes money for taxpayers, to the tune of $1.57 billion last year.
“Ex-Im loans expose the U.S. taxpayer to little risk because they are backed by the collateral of the goods being exported,” Myron Brilliant, executive vice president and head of international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, wrote in an op-ed this week.
“At a time when polls show the economy, growth, and jobs remain top priorities, efforts to hobble Ex-Im will quickly hit the headlines as export deals are lost to third-country competitors."
Bank President Fred Hochberg on Thursday lashed outat bank’s critics, painting them as harmful ideologues.
“There's a vocal minority out there who can't stomach the thought that the government might have a role to play in empowering U.S. businesses to compete across the globe,” Hochberg said. “Of course, everyone is entitled to their own theories and dogmas — but theories don't pay the bills.”
One source opposed to the bank said that Ryan’s leadership is a mixed bag, given that it allows Hochberg to depict all critics as driven by ideology.
The source said Ryan’s rhetoric risks overshadowing more nuanced criticism of the bank that it should not be distorting the playing field in developed countries such as in Europe.