Senate Democrats Try to Win Big Business by Exploiting the GOP Split on the Ex-Im Bank

As talks to produce bipartisan reauthorization legislation falter, Democrats look for political gain with the business class.

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National Journal
Michael Catalin
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Michael Catalin
July 6, 2014, 4:42 p.m.

Sens­ing an op­por­tun­ity to cap­it­al­ize on a split with­in the GOP, Sen­ate Demo­crats will vote this month to reau­thor­ize a fa­vor­ite of big busi­ness — the Ex­port-Im­port Bank.

While busi­ness groups and mod­er­ate law­makers have moun­ted a cam­paign to get the lender’s charter re-upped, Re­pub­lic­ans are un­der heavy pres­sure from con­ser­vat­ive groups to let the bank die when its au­thor­iz­a­tion ex­pires in Septem­ber.

It’s a split that busi­ness-friendly Demo­crats are latch­ing onto in the long-shot hope that this is­sue might be the one that fi­nally turns groups like the Cham­ber of Com­merce to the Demo­crats’ side.

“I’ve said this to [cham­ber Pres­id­ent] Tom Dono­hue and oth­ers: In many ways main­stream Demo­crats are closer to you than many Re­pub­lic­ans be­cause the tea party has pulled them so far to the right,” said Sen. Chuck Schu­mer, D-N.Y. “They’re do­ing what’s harm­ful to busi­ness.”

In­deed, busi­ness lob­by­ists in Wash­ing­ton and the in­terests they rep­res­ent have in­creas­ingly voiced ir­rit­a­tion with a Re­pub­lic­an Con­fer­ence that has ig­nored its coun­sel and its re­quests on everything from the debt ceil­ing and im­mig­ra­tion re­form to ter­ror­ism risk in­sur­ance.

Still, that frus­tra­tion hasn’t changed how busi­ness doles out its cash. So far this cycle, the Cham­ber of Com­merce in­de­pend­ent ex­pendit­ure group has spent $11 mil­lion for Re­pub­lic­ans. For Demo­crats, it’s spent no money at all.

Schu­mer, mak­ing a case that Demo­crats can be the party of busi­ness, poin­ted to the caucus’s sup­port not only for the Ex­port-Im­port bank but also im­mig­ra­tion re­form and tax ex­tenders.

That might be far-fetched, but there’s no doubt Re­pub­lic­ans see the prob­lem that their in­tra-party split on Ex-Im has be­come.

The bank reau­thor­iz­a­tion gained trac­tion first in the House but then stalled when con­ser­vat­ive out­side groups moun­ted stout op­pos­i­tion. Mean­while, Bank­ing Com­mit­tee mem­bers, in par­tic­u­lar Sen. Joe Manchin of West Vir­gin­ia, were seek­ing to build bi­par­tis­an sup­port for a bill be­hind the scenes.

He and Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois wrote a let­ter call­ing for reau­thor­iz­a­tion of the bank, but there was mis­com­mu­nic­a­tion be­hind the scenes, aides con­firm, with Manchin’s staff be­liev­ing Kirk would co­spon­sor a bill.

Kirk had nev­er signed on to sup­port le­gis­la­tion. He’s talked with busi­ness groups and re­as­sured them he sup­ports reau­thor­iz­a­tion, but has not yet agreed to co­spon­sor any le­gis­la­tion, an aide said.

And once Kirk pulled back, Demo­crats eagerly jumped in­to the fray, see­ing the po­ten­tial for a polit­ic­al win by ad­van­cing le­gis­la­tion to the floor.

“It’s tough to be a Re­pub­lic­an lead­ing on this is­sue,” said a Sen­ate GOP aide, who ad­ded that Re­pub­lic­ans do in­deed worry that Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id is turn­ing this to Demo­crats’ ad­vant­age. “Be­cause this is such a huge is­sue, Re­id would force us to vote on it be­fore the midterms.”

Looks like that’s ex­actly the way this is go­ing to play out.

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