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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