Obama warns Congress: Don't leave businesses hanging

Chiding Congress in no uncertain terms, President Obama warned Wednesday that American businesses are suffering while the Export-Import Bank lapses, and called on lawmakers to reauthorize the bank within days.

With Congress nearing its annual August recess, Mr. Obama said the U.S. "cannot leave these businesses hanging" by punting a vote to renew the bank until after Congress returns. He said it was a "shame" that the bank had been allowed to expire, and said the lapse puts the U.S. at a disadvantage because "every other advanced country has a program like this" to promote its exports.

"We cannot unilaterally disarm," Mr. Obama said during a meeting in the Roosevelt Room with small businesses affected by the bank's expiration. "Orders are on hold. Businesses are in danger. We need to get this done."

An obscure federal agency unknown to most Americans, the Export-Import Bank underwrites loans to foreign companies that are purchasing American products, which helps U.S. businesses successfully market their products overseas. Conservatives denounce it as corporate welfare, although Mr. Obama insisted that's not the case. He said the U.S. Treasury actually benefits because the government makes money from the bank.

The bank's charter expired June 30 for the first time in its 81-year history because of congressional inaction. With conservative opponents celebrating its demise, prospects to revive it are uncertain.

Supporters in the Senate are hoping to add it to must-pass highway legislation now being considered - and they have the votes to prevail - but the underlying highway legislation may run into trouble. The House has passed its own, shorter highway bill without the Export-Import Bank included, and House Republicans are opposed to the Senate bill.

The White House not only supports adding the bank's reauthorization to the bill, but "insists" it be added to the crucial highway legislation, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Wednesday.

Complicating matters, Congress' legislative session is drawing near its close, so supporters face the prospect of running out of time to push the Export-Import Bank across the finish line before lawmakers leave Washington for their annual August recess.

On top of that, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a 2016 presidential candidate, has introduced an amendment to the highway bill to strip Planned Parenthood of any taxpayer funding, following a controversy over their handling of fetal tissue.

"Obviously, we do not at all support a measure like that," Earnest said about Paul's amendment. "And you've heard me take a pretty dim view in the past of ideological riders that are unrelated to the baseline bill. And I think in this case, that rider that seems to be floated by Senator Paul would fall into that category."

Mr. Obama said Wednesday that renewing the Export-Import Bank "should be a no-brainer."

The bank cannot currently make new loans or guarantees but remains in business to service billions in outstanding loans and guarantees. However, its funding runs out Sept. 30, so its outlook becomes even shakier if Congress does not act before then.