Having failed last year to kill off a tiny and obscure federal agency created to help U.S. companies sell products abroad, the conservative wing of the Republican Party smells blood this year.
Their target? The Export-Import Bank, an 81-year-old agency that offers loans and insurance to U.S. companies hoping to increase exports.
Among those leading the effort: Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana.
Jordan argues that the agency, whose authorization is set to expire June 30, is little more than a “slush fund for politically connected businesses” that uses taxpayer dollars to secure special deals. He says one of the agency’s biggest beneficiaries is Boeing, which, he argues, hardly needs federal dollars to break into new markets.
Jordan is joined in his efforts by the Heritage Foundation, FreedomWorks, the Club for Growth, the House Majority Leader and Majority Whip, and, he says, “every Republican presidential candidate.”
“The momentum is in our favor,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, chair of the House Financial Services Committee and a prominent opponent of the bank. “I didn’t really start this fight. I just plan to be standing at the end of this fight.”
On the other side are groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Republicans including Reps. Steve Stivers, R-Upper Arlington and Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, and the National Association of Manufacturers. Also offering a full-throated endorsement of the bank: Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.
To them, ending the bank is a foolhardy proposition. They say that the U.S. faces a mammoth trade deficit and needs more help entering foreign markets, not less. They point to estimates indicating that between 2007 and 2014, 258 Ohio businesses benefited from the program.
“If we don’t have an Ex-Im Bank, we don’t have an airline industry, we don’t have an aircraft industry in America,” said Johnson. “When you look at the performance of the projects that have been funded through the Ex-Im bank here in America, they have a tremendous track record of overperforming and getting a great return on investment.”
An attempt by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., to reauthorize the bank as part of this week’s efforts to pass Trade Promotion Authority this week failed when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to allow the amendment to have a vote. Critics said attaching such an amendment would’ve torpedoed the bill in the House, but Democrats said McConnell has promised to hold a vote on the bank before it expires in June.
But others are skeptical about the bank’s chances in the House.
“The Tea Party opposition to this in the House of Representatives may in fact kill the Ex-Im bank,” said Brown. “Even if it doesn’t kill it, it’s only able to limp along because people who are looking for financing can’t operate in an environment where they’re not sure if the Ex-Im bank will exist in three months or six months.”
But Jordan, who has held hearings on the issue in his capacity as a subcommittee chairman on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, argues that the bank isn’t only an example of corporate welfare; he says it’s corrupt. He said the bank’s inspector general is investigating 31 cases of fraud and abuse that may lead to indictments.
“All Congress has to do is what Congress does best,” he said. “Nothing. And this thing goes away.”
Others in the Ohio delegation say that eliminating the bank would harm Ohio businesses.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, supports reforming the bank, but said the U.S. would “shoot ourselves in the foot” if it let the bank expire.
“We will lose jobs to other countries if we don’t have some kind of support to exporters,” he said.
Joe Brown of Hartzell Propeller, a Piqua propeller manufacturer, said his company doesn’t use the Export-Import financing. But without it, he said, his business would slow down. That’s because at least two of his customers — one in Texas and one in Georgia — use the bank. If they lose business, so does he.
“It would hurt us if our customers couldn’t use the Export-Import Bank to facilitate sales,” he said.
He and bank supporters say that some 60 other countries — including China, South Korea and most of those in Europe — have some sort of equivalent institution.
“Dropping Ex-Im is like unilaterally disarming the financing of exports,” he said. “Why would we do that?”
Reporter Jack Torry contributed to this report.
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