Ex-Im’s opponents manage to keep the bank hobbled

Am I really writing another Export-Import Bank story?

Ugh.

After more than two years, the federal agency is still stuck moonlighting as a political football between Tea Party Republicans and just about everyone else in Congress.

Opponents of the bank, which provides financing for export sales of US goods and services, have managed to hobble — but not kill — it by blocking nominees for the Ex-Im’s board of directors. The end result is that the bank cannot approve loans worth more than $10 million, which is not enough for jetliner sales and other major transactions. (Boeing is among the bank’s biggest beneficiaries, so much so that critics call it the Bank of Boeing.)

Here’s how it works: Loans greater than $10 million have to be approved by a majority of the Ex-Im Bank’s board, whose five directors are nominated by the president and approved by the Senate. The board needs to have at least three members for a quorum. Without that, it cannot meet or approve transactions.

Three board seats have been vacant since July 2015.

Since then, Ex-Im officials say, there are more than 30 deals worth $20 billion combined in limbo, the Washington Post reports.

Pres. Barack Obama’s nominees to fill the four-year terms have stalled in the Senate Banking Committee, which is controlled by Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., an Ex-Im opponent. That has limited the bank to smaller transactions for more than a year.

So, on Wednesday, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., took another run at filling one vacant seat. Immediately after the Senate approved a bill to avoid a federal government shutdown, Murray jumped up in an attempt to circumvent the Senate Banking Committee. She tried to force a general vote in the Senate on one of Obama’s nominees, John Mark McWatters, a Republican from Texas and former aide to Rep. Jeb Hensarling.

Shelby objected to the motion, shutting down Murray’s attempted end run.

If Democrats take control of the Senate after November’s election, Ex-Im supporters would move quickly to fill the vacancies when the new Congress convenes in January. The political news website fivethirtyeight.com gives Dems a 60 percent chance of winning control of the Senate. They need to pick up four seats if they win the White House and five seats if they don’t to have a majority. Both Shelby and Murray are up for re-election. However, neither faces a significant threat at the ballot box.

While the political fight over the Ex-Im Bank has mostly been in Congress, it has seeped into the presidential contest, where trade has been a hot topic.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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