Congress recessed for a week-long Fourth of July break without taking up legislation to reauthorize the Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank's charter, just days before it was set to expire. The Ex-Im Bank supports U.S. exports, including a significant amount from nuclear energy suppliers, by guaranteeing loans for foreign purchasers. The U.S. nuclear energy industry has been one of the most vocal proponents in the effort to renew the Ex-Im Bank's charter. The industry maintains that the bank enables U.S. nuclear energy companies to compete internationally through advancing U.S. interests in energy security, nuclear safety and nonproliferation. The Ex-Im Bank was previously operating under a nine month short-term extension that passed as part of a continuing resolution to fund the federal government at the end of the 113th Congress and expired on June 30, 2015.
The expiration of the Ex-Im Bank's charter had been expected as it became clear that there was no clear pathway for passage of a reauthorization bill in Congress. With the expiration of the charter, the Ex-Im Bank is unable to approve financing of new deals involving the sale of U.S. products to buyers abroad. Dan Lipman, vice president of supplier and international programs at the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), has said that the U.S. stands to lose billions of dollars in nuclear energy business.
The Bank's supporters nevertheless remain hopeful that the Ex-Im's shut down will be brief. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who himself does not support the Bank, said last week that he would allow legislation reauthorizing the Ex-Im Bank to be combined with a transportation-funding bill, which will be debated sometime in July and is expected to be signed into law. "The highway bill will be open for amendment, and it's pretty obvious that that would be a place for this vote to occur," McConnell said in a recent statement to the press. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), an Ex-Im supporter, has said in the past that the House will take up whatever the Senate might pass.
The Ex-Im Bank has been helping U.S. exporters by guaranteeing loans for more than 80 years and for most of that time extension of the Bank's charter in Congress has been uncontroversial. But the Ex-Im Bank has become in recent years a target of conservative Republicans, led by House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), who liken it to corporate welfare and believe that the Bank's role could be filled by private lenders. A bipartisan majority in the House and Senate, however, still support the Bank and the votes exist to pass an extension, if congressional leaders allow it to come up for a vote.