Ex-Im Bank showdown splits Virginia

An explosive House of Representatives vote on a Washington finance agency is dividing one state's congressional delegation.

Virginia's lawmakers are divided along regional lines over an effort to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank's charter, which expired this summer. 

Supporters of reviving the Depression-era agency, which subsidizes credit for companies doing business abroad, believe they are close to the 218 signatures they need to force a vote on reviving the agency's charter.

The Ex-Im Bank — which finances and insures exports from private American companies into markets that private lenders consider too risky — has long been a target for free-market conservatives.

Opponents question the agency's practices and finances. They also criticize its focus on the business interests of a few large corporations. Conservative critics point out that most of the agency's support goes to massive companies, including Boeing and General Electric.

Ex-Im's federal charter was allowed to expire on July 1, after the House bypassed a Senate highway spending bill that contained the bank's recharter. The House passed a spending bill of its own that excluded an extension.

Since that time, the agency has stopped making new loan guarantees but continues to manage its existing portfolio. In a statement released in late September, the Export-Import Bank said it continues to employ a staff of 413 while awaiting efforts to resurrect its charter. 

In September, Ex-Im supporters launched a discharge petition aimed at bringing a bill rechartering the agency directly to the House floor for a vote, bypassing committee hearings and leadership roadblocks.

Eleventh District Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Democrat who took his seat in the House in 2009, told AMI Newswire the votes are there to pass the bill. "The majority of the House is ready to do it. The question is whether the GOP will cross the aisle on the discharge petition to bring it to the floor."

Virginia politicians have a strong incentive to favor the Ex-Im Bank: Much of the agency's support is concentrated in the state, which borders Washington.  Virginia Sens. Tim Kaine and John Warner, both Democrats, are strong supporters of renewing the charter.

Democratic Virginia House Delegate Mark Keam told AMI Newswire the Export-Import Bank renewal is critical to businesses in his Fairfax County district.

"The bank serves an important role in supporting American companies that compete against foreign businesses," Keam said. "I know from personal contacts that dozens of these businesses do international trade, and many have benefited from Export-Import Bank programs, such as insurance, credits or loan guarantees."

The state's biggest users of Export-Import Bank financing, however, are not in high-tech northern Virginia but in the Appalachian southwestern part of the state. There, Republican Rep. Morgan Griffith represents the ninth congressional district, home to Virginia's coal industry.  

In 2012, Griffith voted to extend the Bank's charter until 2014 and increase its lending limit to $120 billion a year from $100 billion. Griffith did not make a public stand on reauthorization earlier this year, and did not respond to AMI Newswire's request for comment on the discharge petition.

But one Virginia congressman is clear in his opposition to bringing the Ex-Im Bank back to life.

Rep. David Brat, a Republican freshman, defeated then-majority leader Eric Cantor in the June, 2014, primary — an  upset stemming in part from Cantor's long support for the Export-Import Bank.

Brat spokesman Jack Minor, Jr. told AMI Newswire: "Congressman Brat has been steadfast in his opposition to the Export-Import Bank. The circumstances behind his opposition have not changed."