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.

Sen. Chuck Schumer wants car to stop sharing location data without drivers' permission and knowledge.
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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