Some people might think that the Clintonites and the Senate would have figured out by now how to make sure important operations don't shut down for lack of a quorum on the board of directors.
Loop Fans, of course, know better. So it's no surprise that the Ex-Im Bank, which boosts U.S. exports by giving loans or guarantees to companies exporting overseas, is in partial shutdown because the five-member board has only two members and therefore no quorum.
The bank can approve loans under $10 million without the board, but not the big ones. So what does this mean? How about an immediate stall on $2.3 billion in exports, including $1.6 billion in aircraft orders for Boeing and more than $500 million to engineering firms Halliburton and ABB Group for Russian oil projects? And rest assured there are German, French and other companies waiting in the wings to jump in with financing from their export credit agencies.
The four-year terms of two board members, Maria L. Haley and Julie D. Belaga, expired as scheduled on Jan. 20. They could extend six months to get successors in place, but Belaga left right away. Haley, looking for a second term, stayed on. Then in March, Rita M. Rodriguez, a Reagan appointee, called it quits.
The White House backed Haley, a longtime Bill Clinton aide in Arkansas and Washington, who has gotten high marks for her Ex-Im Bank work. But naturally enough, some senators objected, noting media reports about her contacts with Asian American donors implicated in the Clinton fund-raising misdeeds.
The White House, according to one source, proposed giving the Republicans two seats if they would agree to re-up Haley. But then Senate Democrats, especially from the Northern Plains, objected. They had a nominee, Gorman King, who's close to Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) and was counsel to Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.).
Meanwhile, it was not until about mid-June that Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) sent the GOP's pick, former Reagan and Bush administration official Tom Adams, to the White House for vetting.
Finally, with the White House unwilling to pull the plug, Haley withdrew herself from consideration in late June.
All this has Congress in a near frenzy trying to get the bank back in business before the recess. The House Monday night passed a measure to allow the bank to operate with just two board members, though the Senate is unlikely to agree.
But as luck would have it, the White House had deputy personnel director Vanessa Weaver, a native Arkansan and lawyer who ran a computer company in McLean before joining the White House in 1994, just about through vetting for another possible job. Luckier still, she's much-liked by some key Senate Republicans who have dealt with her and credit her as a straight-shooter.
So her nomination is expected to go up today and the rush is on to get her confirmed by the end of next week. If that route fails, the fallback is a GOP-approved recess appointment with confirmation in September.
Meanwhile, Haley is said to be moving to White House personnel and is a likely pick to replace director Bob J. Nash should he move on at the end of this year.
Helms Wields an F Word
As then-St. Petersburg Times reporter Charles Stafford used to say: "If you can't tell 'em anything new, teach 'em a word." With that in mind, we have a letter from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) to Senate Democrats talking about their "distress at my floccinaucinihilipilification" of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
The Oxford English Dictionary says this means Helms deems the treaty worthless. The big word was used by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) some 20 years ago and Helms apparently filed it away for a suitable occasion.
The House of Unlimited Debate
As the Senate was preparing to vote Monday on a rules change that Democrats regarded as a power grab by Republicans, Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) was asked by a reporter if he thought Majority Leader Lott was ill-equipped to lead the Senate.
Of course not, Daschle replied. It's just that Lott is a "control freak," he explained.
"You know I love him, but I think he wants control. It's not meant to be derogatory. I mean it's just his nature. I say it in a light-hearted way. I don't mean he's a freak. I'm just saying he's a control nut," Daschle said.
Lott is attempting to make the Senate more like the House, where the leadership wields enormous power through the Rules Committee and the minority party has few rights, Daschle added. "He just can't accept the nature of the Senate, which is to go on and debate an issue and allow the Senate to work its will," he said.
Asked about Daschle's comments, Lott spokesman John Czwartacki paused for a moment and then offered, "Senator Lott does like to move things along."
Albright for Dessert
Quote of the Day from Sen. Ernest F. "Fritz" Hollings (D-S.C.), speaking with reporters at a Sperling breakfast yesterday. After an hour of nonnews, everyone was preparing to leave when Hollings opined about the difficulties of negotiating peace in Northern Ireland. "Thank God we sent George Mitchell and not Madeleine [Albright] to Ireland," Hollings said. "We'd be bombing them this morning."