A former George W. Bush administration official joined Democrats Wednesday in calling for the reauthorization of the U.S. Export-Import Bank as it faces a May 31 deadline to stay in business.
Fiscally conservative House Republicans are balking at reauthorizing the bank, which offers financing aid and other subsidies to help U.S. companies sell in overseas markets, when its charter expires in May.
"It would be stunning if we were to not reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank, especially at a time when China has an Ex-Im Bank and when Russia is looking to expand their Ex-Im Bank," former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez told the Center for National Policy. "We get this wrong, and it will take us a long time to make it up."
The Obama administration and former President Bill Clinton have already called for reauthorization of the bank. Mr. Clinton, speaking at the bank's annual conference last week, said, "Support for the Ex-Im bank used to be a bipartisan deal, and I hope it will be again."
But despite mounting pressure, House Republicans and private fiscal conservative groups are demanding more accountability and other changes for the bank before they will support reauthorization.
The Senate Banking Committee sent a reauthorization bill to the floor in September, but it has not yet passed in the chamber.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson, South Dakota Democrat, said failure to act by May 31 would favor foreign competitors over U.S. exporters and hurt the Obama administration's goal of doubling U.S. exports by 2015.
"There is simply no good reason to oppose the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank," Mr. Johnson said at a committee hearing on Tuesday. Last year, the bank accounted for nearly $33 billion in export financing, which supported 290,000 American jobs, according to Mr. Johnson.
The bill would extend the bank's charter to 2015 and increase its lending authority from $100 billion to $140 billion. Alabama Sen. Richard C. Shelby, the banking panel's ranking Republican, also called for Congress to reauthorize the bank, saying the measure contains reforms to promote transparency and oversight of the bank.
But House Republicans would like to see even greater reforms, echoing arguments of critics that the government shouldn't be picking private-sector winners and losers.
They cite the case of Delta Air Lines, which has been critical of the bank's operations. Airplane maker the Boeing Co. is a major beneficiary of Ex-Im Bank funding, enabling the company to sell modern passenger jets to foreign carriers, which then can compete better against Delta.
Chris Chocola, president of the influential fiscal conservative group the Club for Growth, cited Delta's plight as one reason to oppose the reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank.
The bank "is a case study in Washington bureaucrats picking winners and losers and interfering with the free market," he wrote in a recent op-ed column for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "It's corporate welfare that is hurting economic growth and costing our nation jobs in one of the most stagnant economies in American history."
But many U.S. companies, particularly small businesses, say the loan guarantees are necessary to compete internationally.
The closing of the Ex-Im Bank "would seriously disadvantage U.S. companies - like mine - in foreign markets, potentially resulting in the loss of thousands of U.S. jobs," according to Robert Patton, president and CEO of Patton Electronics, who testified at Tuesday's Senate hearing.
In 2011, the bank generated $700 million in revenues from fees charged for its loan guarantees. It brought in a total of $3.4 billion between 2006 and 2010. Furthermore, bank supporters note that borrowers have defaulted on fewer than 2 percent of Ex-Im's loans, a rate lower than at commercial banks.
c Daniel Jackson contributed to this report.
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