The short-term spending deal reached by congressional Republicans late Tuesday includes a variety of spending measures and provisions unrelated to funding the government through April of next year, including $170 million in funding for the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and language that would ease the confirmation of retired Marine Gen. James N. Mattis as Secretary of Defense. Conspicuously absent from the continuing resolution expected to pass the House easily on Thursday: a provision restoring full lending powers to the embattled Export-Import Bank.
Ex-Im, as the agency is known, supports billions of dollars of U.S. trade financing annually, supporting thousands of U.S. jobs. But in fiscal 2016, job numbers have dropped dramatically as a result of the cutbacks.
The agency has been operating with just two board members for nearly 18 months, one board member shy of the three needed to approve transactions greater than $10 million. The agency — which guarantees loans to foreign companies wishing to purchase U.S. goods — faces opposition from a contingent of Republicans in Congress who views Ex-Im's use of government dollars to backstop deals for U.S. companies as "corporate welfare." Those opponents have effectively blocked new nominations to Ex-Im's board, severely limiting the agency's ability to carry out its mission.
Last week the Obama administration asked that the funding bill include a provision that would allow Ex-Im to operate at full capacity for up to three years with only two board members. GOP lawmakers, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Penn.) — who attached similar requests to spending bills last week — have also come out in support of restoring Ex-Im's full lending powers, going up against congressional colleagues like Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas that have vowed to shutter Ex-Im.
But the larger question surrounding the long-term existence of the Export-Import Bank will be answered by the incoming Trump administration, which has yet to weigh in publicly on the matter. Fred Hochberg, chairman and president of Ex-Im Bank, is confident that Ex-Im's core focus on boosting the competitiveness of U.S. exports abroad and preserving jobs at home dovetails with the president-elect's stated economic agenda.
Others aren't so sure.
"If this thing is going to be rescued, it's going to have to be rescued by the president," said Richard Aboulafia, vice president for analysis at aerospace industry consultancy Teal Group. "And he's implied that he won't go to bat for it."