House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) is negotiating a bipartisan deal with Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, an effort that is drawing praise from feuding factions in the business community but threats from conservatives who would be skipped over by it.
Right-wing angst over the bank has stepped up in recent weeks, with the Club for Growth, Heritage Action for America and other outside conservative groups teaming with the Republican Study Committee in the House and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) in the Senate to fight for abolishing the bank altogether.
The finely calibrated deal under discussion, as described by lobbyists and aides working on the issue, would grab enough Democratic votes to overcome a bloc of 50 to 70 Republicans who strongly oppose reauthorizing the bank’s lending authority. Such a result would signal at least an appearance of centrism.
“We are working to formulate a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank that includes needed reforms and accountability measures,” Cantor spokeswoman Laena Fallon said.
The bank’s annual conference is taking place in Washington, D.C., on Thursday and Friday.
Although Cantor is seen as an ally of Delta Airlines, which has been fighting for restrictions on the bank, his effort to find common ground has drawn praise from the bank’s supporters. The Boeing Co., which benefits greatly from Export-Import Bank deals, is the leading company backing the bank.
Cantor is “the adult in the room,” said one lobbyist involved in the fight.
And the emphasis on bipartisanship is also in line with a recent push by Cantor for finding consensus between the parties, which could soften his image after he weathered Democratic attacks during the debt ceiling standoff.
Conservatives, though, aren’t happy they could be leapfrogged.
A source from one of the conservative groups working on the issue said the approach is going to cause Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) “a lot of problems going forward.”
If GOP leaders get around conservative objections with Democratic votes, “it’s going to send the message to conservatives that he’s more interested in political expedience than fiscally conservative policy,” the source said.
However, there were some cracks forming among the conservative opposition. A GOP aide said a group of RSC members is preparing a letter supporting the bank’s reauthorization.
Boehner hasn’t taken a position on the Export-Import Bank. Michael Steel, a spokesman for the Ohio Republican, said: “The House Majority Leader and his staff have been doing a good job trying to find common ground on the issue. No decisions have been made at this point.”
Because of expiring provisions in current law, officials face a May 30 deadline to reauthorize the bank. One source following the issue said that based on meetings with House staffers, passage of a reauthorization bill is likely within the next two weeks.
The fight over the bank has resulted in colorful charges of hypocrisy and some embarrassing revelations.
The Club for Growth, led by former Rep. Chris Chocola (Ind.), published a list of the “Top 10 Clients” who received or benefited from loans from the bank. The list includes Solyndra, Mexican drug cartels, Enron and an oil company with ties to the Russian mafia.
Supporters of the bank noted Chocola’s family business once benefited from the bank’s loans.
Delta, the leading business critic, has received numerous federal subsidies and bailouts over the years.
“They’ve been lobbying Congress for handouts for a decade,” said a former House aide to a RSC member. The source pointed out that Delta lobbied for and received a pension bailout from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. in 2007 for nearly $1 billion. “The irony is that the Delta spokesman who responds to this quote has his own pension subsidized by the U.S. taxpayer.”
And, in the midst of the debate, the Export-Import Bank issued an $85 million loan that benefits Delta, which conservatives said was a play to embarrass the company.
Trebor Banstetter, a Delta spokesman, said charges of hypocrisy are based on a misunderstanding of the company’s position. Delta doesn’t oppose reauthorizing the bank, but rather it is focused on changes that would ensure its loans don’t accidentally harm other U.S. companies, he said.
Banstetter also noted the relatively high level of taxes on airline companies.