Senate attaches Ex-Im to Highway Funding Bill; all eyes on House.

Reuters (7/27, Lawder) reports that Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) announced Monday that the House won’t take up the recently passed Senate transportation bill. Instead, McCarthy argued that the “best option” for funding crucial transportation projects would be to have the House reaffirm a measure it has already passed — one that doesn’t include reauthorization of the US Export-Import Bank. The AP (7/28, Werner) notes that, in addition, the lower chamber’s bill provides “a five-month extension” of current highway-funding programs “while the Senate’s version authorizes $350 billion in transportation programs for six years, though only three of those are paid for.”

Following Sunday’s procedural vote on the issue, Politico (7/28, Guida) reports that the Senate on Monday night “voted 64-29 … to tack a renewal of the Export-Import Bank to” the “highway funding bill.” USA Today (7/28, Kelly) also notes Monday’s vote.

The Hill (7/28, Wong, Cirilli) says “McCarthy’s declaration is a blow not only to the Senate,” where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) “had teamed up to craft the bipartisan, long-term highway bill,” but also “to backers of the Ex-Im Bank.” That group had hoped that “the 81-year-old institution would be revived by catching a ride on the back of the Senate transportation bill.”

At any rate, cautions the Huffington Post (7/27, Barron-Lopez), “little time remains … for the Senate to take up the House version.” McCarthy, according to Roll Call’s (7/27, Fuller) “218” blog, offered the same argument Monday, asking “how anyone could expect [the House] to take up the Senate highway bill in such a short amount of time.” The GOP leader pointed out that members of Congress are “set to depart on Thursday” for their August recess.

Politico (7/28, Sherman) cites “House Republican leaders” as saying “a five-month bill would allow the House and Senate to formally negotiate their differences on highway policy before the end of the year.”

In an editorial, the Wall Street Journal (7/28, A12, Subscription Publication) analyzes the political issues at stake in the highway bill standoff, concluding that — in addition to the Ex-Im Bank’s fate — the competing strategies at play are those of McConnell and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI). McConnell, says the Journal, sees the bill as an instrument to cement Republicans’ hold on the Senate, while Ryan wants to use the debate to pressure the White House into a deal on tax reform. The Journal commends Ryan but views his strategy as a gamble.

In its blog “The Fix,” the Washington Post (7/27, Phillips) details the argument among Republicans over the Export-Import Bank, breaking the party into “four factions” on the issue. The AP (7/28, Werner), in an item headlined “5 Things To Know About The Fight Over The Export-Import Bank,” says that Bank supporters, including the NAM, “point out that most other countries have export credit agencies, in some cases more generous than the U.S. version.” According to these proponents, “it will be harder for U.S. companies to compete overseas if their competitors are supported by the government and they aren’t.”

Kirk-Heitkamp Language On Bank Included In Senate Bill. Politico (7/28, Guida) notes that the Ex-Im amendment passed by the Senate “contains the text of a bill” introduced earlier this year by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) that would extend the Bank’s charter through September 2019 and “lower its lending cap” to $135 billion from the most recent level of $140 billion. “The measure would also raise the percentage of the agency’s operations that must go toward supporting small businesses” to 25% from 20%, Politico notes.

In a news release from his office, Kirk announced the inclusion of text from his and Heitkamp’s “Export-Import Bank Reform and Reauthorization Act (S. 819).” He noted that the NAM and other business groups “are in support of the Kirk-Heitkamp legislation.”

In a statement, Sen. Angus King (I-ME) called on the House to follow the Senate’s lead in passing the Ex-Im amendment. King also cited the backing of the NAM and others in the business community, adding that the Bank “has historically received strong bipartisan support.