Battle lines drawn over Export-Import Bank renewal

Bank is a loan source for firms that do business overseas

Export-Import bank
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

After the Senate voted to revive the federal Export-Import Bank, a key source of loans for smaller U.S. companies that do business abroad, the fate of the agency now moves to a potential House showdown.

The bank's authorization expired June 30, halting all new loan guarantees and other assistance to foreign customers seeking to purchase goods from American companies. The agency continues to service existing loans.

While usually not known among the general public, the government-backed financial institution—known as the Ex-Im bank for short—makes and guarantees loans. The Ex-Im bank also offers insurance to American companies so they can do business overseas.

Susan Axelrod, a Long Island, New York, housewife began making quiches in her home kitchen in 1973, and expanded her company, Love & Quiches Gourmet, in part by exporting her products to places such as Qatar and Japan. She told CNBC last month she has been able to reach overseas markets thanks to the Ex-Im bank.

If the bank's charter is not reauthorized, "the U.S. is going to lose our exporting power," Axelrod said. "China and other exporting countries are chomping at the bit to take that business." She said as much as 30 percent of her business comes from international markets.

Read MorePritzker & Hochberg: American businesses need the Ex-Im Bank

President Barack Obama, meanwhile, has called renewing the Ex-Im bank's charter a "no brainer," while visiting with small business exporters at the White House last week.

Congress has failed to renew its charter, partly due to disagreement over who receives funding from the bank. The financial institution did $20.5 billion in financing in 2014, including $5 billion in financing and insurance for small businesses, which make up $27 billion in U.S. exports and 164,000 American jobs. The remaining $15.5 billion goes toward other sources including financing for big corporations—a key source of contention among bank critics.

Main Street lending in focus

Access to loans and capital are key concerns among many small businesses.

Read MoreEntrepreneuers who do biz overseas await bank's future

Last week, the Small Business Administration announced it had hit its lending cap for SBA 7(a) loans, the administration's hallmark loan guarantee program.

"Congress has dissolved into a constant campaign season," said Molly Day, spokeswoman for the U.S. Small Business Association, a nonpartisan lobbying group. "There's a focus elsewhere and on 2016 [election cycle], which does small businesses a real disservice."

The Senate last week passed its version of a bill raising SBA's lending cap for the program to $23.5 billion through the end of the fiscal year, and the SBA is hopeful the House version will pass.

"The program isn't costing taxpayers anything—any cost of it is paid on interest and fees on the loans," said Miguel Ayala, press secretary for the SBA.

"If politicians really want small businesses to support them—they need to support things like Ex-Im and 7(a)" loans, Day said. "Politicians think people won't remember this, and that's just not the case."

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