By JOHN BRESNAHAN and JAKE SHERMAN
Senior Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill increasingly view a renewal of the Export-Import Bank as part of a possible scenario to keep the government open past Sept. 30, according to multiple sources in both chambers.
High-level discussions between the two chambers are in their infancy, and senior aides caution there is no deal in the immediate offing. But there are forces in both chambers pushing to renew the Export-Import Bank and pass an extension of the Highway Trust Fund before the election.
The House will go first, and plans to extend the Highway Trust Fund sometime in the next two weeks, keeping the program funded until early 2015, Republican sources said. That would give Congress more time to debate a more permanent solution for federal highway funding. The House Ways and Means Committee has announced a mark-up of legislation to extend the program until May 31, 2015.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is considering attaching a short-term reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank to a continuing resolution that would keep the government funded past Sept. 30. It would be meant as a dare to House Republicans to shut down the government over the bank in the weeks before Election Day. House Republican leadership has discussed this possibility, but has not decided how they would react if Reid goes in that direction, according to senior House Republican sources. Reid and House Speaker John Boehner met Tuesday.
House Republicans have also discussed passing a so-called CR to keep the government open before August as a way to increase their leverage with the Senate.
Shuttering the Export-Import Bank has become a priority for House conservatives, and its existence has become a flashpoint within the Republican Party. Establishment Republicans support the bank, which helps fund export deals by major companies like Boeing. Tea party aligned Republicans decry it as social welfare. Incoming House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California has ruled out a reauthorization of the program.
But there are people in both House Republican and Senate Democratic leadership who see the upside in extending highway funding and the Export-Import Bank. Highway construction creates jobs and the Export-Import Bank helps large American corporations stay competitive in a global economy.
If the export bank is attached to a government funding measure, it avoids a straight up-and-down vote on its renewal.