By Doug Palmer
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson on Tuesday warned the U.S. Export-Import Bank could be forced to stop operations in two months unless the Senate quickly approves the nomination of Fred Hochberg as president of the government-run bank.
"If we do not again confirm Mr. Hochberg before July 20, we run the risk of leaving the bank without a quorum to act on many of the transactions before it, which will hurt American workers and exporters," Johnson, a South Dakota Democrat, said at a hearing on the nomination.
The Ex-Im Bank provides loans, loan guarantees and other types of financing to help big U.S. companies such as Boeing and GE, as well as many small and medium-sized U.S. companies, to export their goods around the world.
The bank needs a quorum of at least three of its five board of directors to approve transactions. In addition to Hochberg, the terms of two other board members expire in July and President Barack Obama has not yet nominated replacements.
The conservative free-market group Club for Growth tried last year to persuade Congress to shut down Ex-Im Bank, which it views as government welfare for big corporations.
But after U.S. business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Exporters rallied to the bank's defense, lawmakers in both the Senate and the House of Representative voted on a bipartisan basis to renew Ex-Im's charter through September 2014.
Club for Growth's strategy this year is to encourage like-minded lawmakers to block action on Hochberg and other Ex-Im nominees to deny the bank an operating quorum.
That would "threaten the export sales of the thousands of U.S. companies and the hundreds of thousands of American jobs that depend directly or indirectly on the Ex-Im Bank's export financing," the U.S. Chamber and a dozen other business groups said in a letter to the Senate Banking Committee last month.
At the hearing on Tuesday, Johnson noted in 2009 the Senate unanimously approved Hochberg's nomination on voice vote, less than a month after he was nominated.
"I am hopeful that the Committee and Senate will once again move as expeditiously," Johnson said.
(Editing by Doina Chiacu)