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U.S. conservative lawmaker crafting Ex-Im reform plan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A conservative U.S. lawmaker who voted against the Export-Import Bank in the past is crafting a bill that would overhaul the export lender but keep it open, in a sign that the bank's chances of surviving may be improving.

Representative Stephen Fincher, a Tennessee Republican, said on Thursday he was very close to finalizing a bill reforming the bank, which many fellow Tea Party lawmakers would like to close.

The bank offers credit to overseas buyers of U.S. goods and supports U.S. exporters. Its charter will run out on Sept. 30 unless Congress acts to renew it.

Critics decry Ex-Im as an example of corporate welfare, while supporters say it is vital for small businesses as well as large manufacturers such as Boeing, General Electric and Caterpillar.

"This is about jobs, jobs, jobs," said Fincher, who will soon return to his home base for a five-week summer recess along with the rest of the U.S. Congress.

"It's about the folks back in my district, the thousand-plus jobs that are created by the investment of Ex-Im Bank, so hopefully we can have a climate that is beneficial to getting this done."

Fincher's bill, which would extend Ex-Im's charter for five years and trim its lending cap to $120 billion to $130 billion from the current $140 billion, still needs the nod from House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, a staunch critic of the bank.

Hensarling had not given any signal on whether he would allow the bill to advance for discussion in the committee or to the House for a vote, Fincher said, although the pair had open discussions on the subject of Ex-Im.

Supporters of the bank say legislation to extend Ex-Im's charter would pass Congress if it was brought to a vote, but without a vote, it will have to close.

Fincher said work on winnowing an initial list of 50 to 60 reforms was close to complete. Changes included having the bank keep 10 percent of earnings as a buffer against losses, adopting U.S. generally accepted accounting principles, or GAAP, an independent audit of aircraft finance and establishing an ethics office.

"I voted 'no' on the bank last time because we didn't do the reforms that I thought needed to be done for it to be more transparent and accountable to the taxpayer," he said.

The bill is one of several reform proposals, including bipartisan legislation introduced on Wednesday in the Senate that would slightly raise the bank's lending cap to $160 billion over a four-year period.

Legislation from a Tea Party lawmaker could raise the chances of a compromise since the drive to close the bank has been led by conservative Republicans.

(Reporting by Krista Hughes; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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