Big business’ summer agenda on Capitol Hill reads like one big do-over.
The biggest pre-election priorities that stand a chance of passage include the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, extensions of popular tax credits and a terrorism insurance program.
While all three have achieved bipartisan support previously, don’t expect anything to happen without controversy now.
Take the Ex-Im Bank, for example. Though Democrats and many Republicans say they support its reauthorization, conservative Republicans have made killing it a major focus this year.
“It’s a huge priority for the chamber,” Christopher Wenk, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s senior director of international policy, said about the Ex-Im Bank.
Wenk spent the weekend in Mobile, Ala., discussing the issue with the local chamber there and he is helping organize a fly-in of out-of-town advocates to Senate offices next month, following a recent lobby day focused on House members.
The Ex-Im Bank, the official export credit agency of the U.S. which helps businesses secure financing for exports, has become a flash point for conservative Republicans who argue it amounts to a corporate welfare program. Its charter expires on Sept. 30.
House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, recently blasted Ex-Im and called on his fellow Republicans to reject the bank’s reauthorization.
"There is probably no better poster child of the Washington insider economy and corporate welfare than the Export-Import Bank,” Hensarling said in a speech at The Heritage Foundation . “Its demise would clearly be one of the few achievable victories for the Main Street competitive economy left in this Congress. I believe it is a defining issue for our party and our movement.”
But other conservative leaders feel differently. Speaker John A. Boehner, by contrast, has called the bank’s reauthorization a top priority . So it is an example of divisions within the Republican Party separating pro-business from more populist conservatives.
Wenk noted the rough environment and party split. "Yes, there are some Republicans that don’t support Ex-Im, but there are a lot of Republicans that do,” he said. “The chamber, for our members, Ex-Im is a critical tool in helping our exporters.”
Wenk added that June and July will be “crunch time” in lobbying for the bank.
“We are doing lots of things to build some momentum, to build some pressure,” he said. It’s a big priority, too, for the National Association of Manufacturers, said the group’s top trade lobbyist Linda Dempsey. “We certainly view it as a must do this year and can do,” she said.
The NAM also is lobbying hard for an extension of popular tax breaks such as one for companies doing research and development and another credit known as “bonus depreciation,” which allows businesses to immediately deduct 50 percent of the cost of new machinery.
“Our immediate goal is to revive those tax breaks and get them extended until we can get to broader tax reform,” said NAM’s Dorothy Coleman.
The insurance industry and a broad coalition of the companies that carry insurance are pressing lawmakers to renew the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act well before it expires at year’s end.
Tom Santos, vice president of federal affairs at the American Insurance Association, said the past three weeks have been pivotal in terms of building support for the legislation.
“I think we’ll start to see momentum rolling,” he said.
Banking Chairman Tim Johnson of South Dakota and the panel’s ranking Republican Michael D. Crapo of Idaho have called it a priority. The panel recently concluded work on a massive bill to overhaul the nation’s housing finance system, so lobbyists believe the TRIA will take center stage at the committee soon.
“This is an economic issue, more than a campaign issue,” Santos said. Policy holders can’t get new insurance policies, he said, because of the uncertainty surrounding the TRIA. “With each passing month, the economic disruptions become more significant."
Still, even if most members of Congress want to move these items, the limited number of legislative days and the focus on the coming elections has some K Street sources worried about the timing.
One GOP lobbyist, who would only speak on the condition of anonymity, said he believes it will be difficult for Republicans in the House to take a vote on the Ex-Im Bank because of the divisions within the party.
“I think this is something the base is paying attention to,” said this lobbyist, who supports Ex-Im. Perhaps lawmakers, freed of the burdens of their re-election campaigns, would vote to reauthorize Ex-Im’s charter in a lame-duck session.
But because that’s a gamble K Street doesn’t want to take, expect a major push over the next few weeks.
Kate Ackley is a staff writer at CQ Roll Call who keeps tabs on the influence industry.