Ex-Im Bank extension could be its demise


At first glance it might seem like a congressional deal to extend the Export-Import Bank's charter through June would be good news for the beleaguered institution, which supports American exports with loan guarantees and other credit assistance.

In fact, it is the exact opposite. An extension to June could be a death sentence for the bank.

Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

First, the current state of play. The deal to extend the charter to June 30 is not yet done. The House continuing resolution to fund the government past Oct. 1 includes the extension. That should pass early next week. The Senate could then adopt the House bill or more likely make several tweaks and send it back for final passage before Congress recesses next week until the lame-duck session following the midterm elections.

Supporters of the Ex-Im Bank, a group that includes aircraft maker Boeing as well as scores of small exporters across the country, better hope the Senate changes the expiration date, either giving it another few years or moving the date up to December.

Read MoreNever heard of the Export-Import Bank? Here's why you will

The House strategy is clearly to separate Ex-Im from the herd of other must-pass legislation and then quietly execute it next year when fewer people are watching and no legislative horse-trading is needed.

Right now, the House GOP needs Democrats to help pass a continuing resolution to keep the government open (conservative hardliners don't want to do it) and extending Ex-Im assists with that goal. But the Republican leadership, now including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and rank and file want to get rid of Ex-Im, which they view as unnecessary government meddling in the private sector that disproportionately aids giants like Boeing and GE.

So they want to separate the bank from the rest of must-pass legislation and get it to a place where it can be allowed to expire without any collateral damage. If the date gets moved up to December, it would likely coincide with end-of-year must-pass bills including another continuing resolution to fund the government. Democrats could then again demand a longer Ex-Im extension.

Rep. Boehner: Temporary extension for Ex-Im Bank

If the bank gets extended only into early next year, its charter expiration could then coincide with the need to raise the debt ceiling and again make it an attractive bargaining chip in deliberations to pass a bill avoiding catastrophic default.

Read MoreWhat's behind the Ex-Im Bank battle

But if GOP opponents of the bank can extend it just past the raft of other deadlines, the internal party thinking goes, they can simply do nothing in June and watch Ex-Im disappear, giving party activists a big win and not risking major political blowback.

The Republican case for killing Ex-Im in June will gain even more strength if the party takes the Senate in November, which still seems like a probability, though not an overwhelming one given the strengthening economy and stronger than expected Democratic performance in some swing states.

The House GOP will also likely have a somewhat stronger majority next year, further enhancing the likelihood that those in the party who support Ex-Im, a group that includes more moderate Chamber-of-Commerce-type Republicans, will have less sway.

The only potential risk to the House GOP strategy of extending Ex-Im to June and then letting it die is that it gives supporters more time to marshal their case for a full charter extension. And there are many deep-pocketed and politically powerful supporters of Ex-Im, including the chamber, the National Association of Manufacturers and other big business groups.

Read More

Those groups plan to continue to highlight the extent to which Ex-Im guarantees to foreign buyers make it possible for small businesses to export products and hire more U.S. workers. Every time a GOP member of Congress gets a call or visit from a constituent saying he or she will have to lay off workers if Ex-Im goes away makes it that much harder for the member to allow the bank to vanish.

In addition, pushing Ex-Im off to June takes it out of a heated political environment.

Some Republicans who otherwise might support the bank don't want to do so closer to an election where they could face tea party retribution. But June is far enough away from an election that members could both please big business backers and avoid major criticism by supporting an Ex-Im reauthorization.

But none of that could even come into play because all the House GOP leadership would have to do in June is nothing. They could simply not bring Ex-Im up for a vote and allow its charter to expire and see it go out of business. For that reason, the bank and its supporters better hope Senate Democrats kill the June extension next week.

—By Ben White. White is Politico's chief economic correspondent and a CNBC contributor. He also authors the daily tip sheet Politico Morning Money []. Follow him on Twitter @morningmoneyben.