‘Highway Bill’ Short-Term Passage Means Ex-Im Reauthorization Possibilities Must Wait For Lawmaker Vacations to End

Of late, virtually every move made by the U.S. Congress has pros and cons as well as at least one catch. The passage of a transportation/high bill was no exception. Importantly, attachment language to help U.S. businesses with export activity this round of debate—at least in the Senate—but the now-dormant Export-Import Bank of the United States Ex-Im will have to wait at least five weeks to resume operations … if it can at all.

The Senate passed a long-term extension to the so-called Highway Bill that included the reauthorization of Ex-Im, but the legislation differed from a version the House passed immediately before lawmakers on that side of the Capitol rushed to starts their five-week August recess. Because the bills don’t match, a conference committee must be convened. As such, the Senate also passed a three-month extension that matched a short-term patch previously passed by the House to ensure various transportation projects would not be without funding.

While pro-Ex-Im language survived in the Senate, the bad news is, the larger transportation/highway bill means the next deadline date is in late October. With the culture of brinksmanship among federal lawmakers, Ex-Im legislation may sit dormant, like the agency itself, for nearly three months unless supporters find other pending legislation on which it can latch. Either way, Congress’ annual, lengthy summer recess means no definitive movement will come before September.

Ex-Im, through the fees it charges, enables companies to sell products to foreign buyers who have insufficient borrowing options, and it typically generates a taxpayer-neutral result or more frequently a surplus. It has not relied on taxpayer money to cover its activity at any point this decade. Agency supporters are concerned that previously funded companies may need to move some manufacturing operations outside of the U.S. if Ex-Im remains closed; that competitors subsidized by foreign governments would have an unfair advantage; and that domestic jobs will shrink at companies of various sizes. Economists and analysts have panned, even mocked, assertions from far-right political conservatives claiming that the program amounts to a sort of corporate welfare.

- Brian Shappell, CBA, CICP, NACM managing editor and government affairs liaison

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