- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The clock is ticking once again in the battle over the Export-Import Bank, with Congress facing an end-of-the-month deadline on whether to reauthorize the agency or close it down after 81 years in business.

In a battle that has divided top Republicans on Capitol Hill, Ex-Im supporters said Wednesday they were increasingly confident they had the votes in both the Senate and House to keep the bank alive.

“If it gets to the floor, it will pass,” predicted Rep. Chris Collins, New York Republican, who added that he was “befuddled” that so many of his colleagues were so vehement in their opposition to reauthorization at a press conference held before an oversight hearing on the bank.

But House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, a Texas Republican and longtime opponent of the bank, showed no signs of giving up the fight, denouncing the agency again Wednesday as “corporate welfare” for big companies, and noting, “By reauthorizing Ex-Im, my Democratic colleagues are simply throwing Wall Street a big, wet kiss,”

California Rep. Maxine Waters, the ranking Democrat on the committee, accused the chairman of “playing games” with the bank, which she considers “an engine of economic growth.” Ms. Waters also added that a majority of businesses throughout the United States support the bank’s reauthorization, which Congress must act on by June 30.

The Ex-Im Bank does not provide direct loans to U.S. companies, but offers financing and guarantees for foreign purchases of U.S. goods and services that, backers say, private commercial banks simply cannot give.

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Critics, who include conservative Republicans like Mr. Hensarling and even some liberal Democrats such as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, say the bank has evolved into a taxpayer-funded giveaway to some of the nation’s wealthiest corporations, providing subsidies for big exporters such as Boeing who do not need the help. Defenders say the bank helps level the playing field for U.S. exporters and that many of America’s leading international rivals are providing the same support for their export sectors.

Because of Ex-Im, “American entrepreneurs can seize global opportunities,” Bank President Fred Hochberg said Wednesday. He claimed that the bank was responsible for 164,000 U.S. export-related jobs last year alone and that 90 percent of its clients are small businesses.

National Association of Manufacturers President Jay Timmons said that the “limited amount” of government support offered by the bank gives companies a “fair shot” against “aggressive foreign competitors.” Mr. Timmons also said failing to reauthorize the bank would amount to “total economic disarmament.”

Supporters also released an open letter to Congress signed by some 1,056 organizations urging support for the Ex-Im Bank.

“If Ex-Im is not reauthorized before June 30, American companies would be put at a unique disadvantage in global markets, resulting immediately in lost sales and lost jobs,” the letter warned.

But the conservative group Americans for Prosperity has said it will urge its members to contact Congress to kill the Ex-Im Bank and will include the vote on its rating of legislators’ records.

AFP officials said the lobby campaign will focus on a group of over 70 House Republicans who “have yet to take a firm stand opposing the bank,” according to a statement. AFP expects a “flood of phone calls” to descend on the members offices at home in the districts and on Capitol Hill.

Even Republican leadership is at odds over the issue. House Speaker John Boehner has supported reauthorization of Ex-Im Bank, but GOP Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has sided with opponents.

The Ex-Im Bank “is a place where the speaker and I disagree,” Mr. McCarthy said last month. “I think this is an opportunity to wind down the bank because I think that the private sector can fill the void.”

The bank, created in 1934 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, is designed to promote U.S. sales abroad by providing financial support and guarantees for exports on deals where considerable uncertainties exist.

The Congressional Budget Office released data last May showing that the Ex-Im Bank operates at a deficit that will cost taxpayers, in additional to regular operating costs, a total of $2 billion over the next decade. A study by the conservative group Heritage Action concluded that only one out of every 183 U.S. small businesses use Ex-Im services.

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