President Obama called on Americans Saturday to pressure congressional Republicans to renew the U.S. Export-Import Bank, framing the issue as a benefit for small businesses despite the bank's record of primarily supporting large corporations.
"It helps many American entrepreneurs take that next step and take their small business global," Mr. Obama said of the bank in his weekly address. "But next month, its charter will expire — unless members of Congress do their job and reauthorize it."
Mr. Obama, who as a candidate for president in 2008 called the bank "little more than a fund for corporate welfare," is locked in a battle with GOP lawmakers to renew the bank's charter by the end of September. Some prominent House Republicans say the bank interferes with free markets and that the U.S. should not subsidize certain preferred industries.
Noting that lawmakers are in their home districts this month, Mr. Obama said, "If you're a small business owner or employee of a large business that depends on financing to tackle new markets and create new jobs, tell them to quit treating your business like it's expendable, and start treating it for what it is: vital to America's success."
The president said the bank promotes "thousands of businesses, large and small." Critics say those firms are mostly large.
Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, said less than 20 percent of the Export-Import Bank's portfolio benefits small companies.
"Even this is misleading, since the Ex-Im Bank's definition of a 'small business' isn't exactly small," she wrote in an op-ed at Az.com. "Ex-Im Bank defines small businesses as companies with up to 1,500 employees or annual revenue up to $21 million."
She said data from the U.S. Census and from the Ex-Im Bank's records show that only 0.3 percent of all small-business jobs received assistance from the bank in 2007, the most recent year for which the full Census data is available.
"Let that sink in: Over 99.6 percent of American small-business jobs exist without any Ex-Im Bank assistance," she wrote.
But Mr. Obama said Congress has reauthorized the bank routinely, and that it helps create jobs in the U.S. by facilitating the sale of American goods overseas.
"Over the past five years, we've worked hard to open new markets for our businesses, and to help them compete on a level playing field in those markets," Mr. Obama said. "We should be doing everything we can to accelerate this progress, not stall it."
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