- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 29, 2014

Citing a “sense of urgency,” the business lobby is starting a massive effort to target lawmakers in their districts over the Fourth of July and August breaks to get them to renew authorization of the Export-Import Bank, an issue conservative groups are trying to turn into a litmus test for the new House Republican leadership team.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers say the bank, which provides loans to foreign buyers in order to boost U.S. exports, helps create jobs in a still-tenuous economy. Its charter would lapse at the end of September absent congressional action.

“With the September 30 reauthorization deadline, there is a sense of urgency,” said Sally-Shannon Birkel, a spokeswoman at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Just 13 full legislative work days are scheduled through September 30 in the House, where much of the debate among the GOP is taking place. Ms. Birkel said the chamber has sought testimonials from small business owners across the country to help make the case for reauthorization “because we feel it’s important for lawmakers to understand how the bank helps companies in their districts create jobs and grow their businesses.”

The chamber and the National Association of Manufacturers have teamed up on the effort and recently released a letter of support for reauthorizing the bank from more than 800 companies and associations, saying the bank supported $37 billion in exports last year that sustained more than 200,000 jobs at 3,400 companies.

The groups, trying to beat back accusations from some conservative circles that the bank is akin to corporate welfare for a handful of favored companies, said small- and medium-size businesses account for nearly 90 percent of the bank’s transactions.

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Republicans have put on a generally unified front since electing a new leadership team earlier this month after Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s primary defeat. But the issue now threatens to exacerbate tensions between members’ support for national business interests and pressure from outside groups’ populist message on the matter.

“The Export-Import Bank picks winners and losers in the free market, and it should be eliminated completely,” said Barney Keller, a spokesman for the conservative Club for Growth.

Ned Monroe, senior vice president of external relations for the National Association of Manufacturers, said advocacy efforts take place every year, but the fall’s midterm elections add another wrinkle to this year’s push.

“It is for elected officials who will perhaps pay more attention at August recess events,” he said.

House Speaker John A. Boehner has been noncommittal on reauthorizing the bank, and House Majority Leader-elect Kevin McCarthy has said he wants to let it expire. Both Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, and Mr. McCarthy, California Republican, have backed the bank’s renewal in the past.

Mr. Boehner said last week that the bank was originally designed to help deal with unfair competition in the marketplace and that for a long time it provided equity to U.S. manufacturers.

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“Having said all that, there’s a big debate going on in our conference, and we’re just going to have to sort our way through this,” he said.

Forty-one GOP House members wrote to the two leaders last week, urging them to move forward with a multiyear reauthorization, citing efforts by countries like Germany, France, China and India to provide support to their own exporters.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry also wrote a letter June 25 to congressional leaders, urging them to reauthorize the bank — the same day Rep. Jeb Hensarling, Texas Republican, presided over a contentious hearing on the subject on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Hensarling, chairman of the House Committee on Financial Services and a leading voice against reauthorizing the bank, said the disagreement among Republicans at this point is whether to let the bank’s authorization lapse or whether to move forward with reforms to the way it does business.

“We are united in believing that we cannot reauthorize the status quo,” he said.

National Association of Manufacturers officials said a heavier lift was needed to reauthorize the bank in 2012, and the work has continued since then to sustain the 80-year-old bank. That work includes briefings for members on the Hill and back home in their districts, trade events, a lobbying day and a briefing for members who weren’t in Congress the last time the bank was reauthorized.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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