WASHINGTON (AP) -- Legislation to renew the charter of the Export-Import Bank appeared headed for approval by Congress Tuesday after months of debate over the role of the independent federal agency in aiding American exporters.
The Senate is likely to vote in favor of reauthorizing the bank for three years and raising its lending cap from the current $100 billion to $140 billion. First, the Senate is expected to turn back Republican amendments, including several that would emasculate or eliminate the bank.
It passed the House last week on a 330-93 vote, with all no votes coming from Republicans.
The bank, which has been reauthorized dozens of times with little notice since it was established in 1934, became caught this year between business groups that strongly support it and conservative organizations, such as Club for Growth, that say the bank is market-distorting and should be abolished. President Barack Obama has pushed for its renewal, saying it is key to his jobs-promoting goal of doubling exports over a five-year period.
A side issue has been the split between supporters of Boeing Co., the Ex-Im Bank's largest beneficiary, and Delta Air Lines, which has claimed that its bottom line has been hurt because its foreign competitors, such as Air India, have used Ex-Im financing to buy Boeing's newest aircraft.
Without congressional action, the bank's charter expires at the end of this month. It is also close to going over its lending cap.
The bank, which takes no money from taxpayers, provides export-financing support for about 2 percent of U.S. exports, which amounted last year to about $32 billion in loans, loan guarantees and credit financing. About $11 billion of that supported Boeing sales of large commercial aircrafts.
Countering critics who say it is "Boeing's bank," the bank says that 87 percent of its transactions last year directly benefited small businesses, and that its financing supported 290,000 jobs, including 85,000 in the aerospace industry.
The Ex-Im Bank "is one of the only tools manufacturers in the United States have to counter hundreds of billions of dollars of export financing that foreign governments offer to their exporters," the National Association of Manufacturers said in a letter to senators. The group said that in 2010 Canada, France and India provided seven times — and China and Brazil 10 times — more export assistance as a share of gross domestic product than did the United States.
The bank's future existence was guaranteed only after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Democratic whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland reached a compromise earlier this month. In addition to renewing the bank for three years, it requires greater transparency in the bank's dealings, a Republican priority, and directs the bank to make clear that loans are needed for such reasons as assuming risks the private sector won't undertake or meeting competition from foreign export credit agencies.
The compromise also addresses the Boeing-Delta dispute by directing the secretary of the Treasury to initiate multilateral negotiations on reducing and eventually eliminating government export subsidies for aircraft.