Fri, Mar 13, 2015 - Page 9 News List

Users fight to save Export-Import Bank

While there is a Republican schism over the fate of an 81-year-old banking institution, small-business leaders have been waging a counteroffensive to try to save it

By Jonathan Weisman  /  NY Times News Service, WASHINGTON

Illustration: Mountain People

Late last month, William Schubert, the president of a small infrastructure export firm outside Houston, led a group of Texas business leaders to meet with Senator Ted Cruz’s chief of staff.

Their mission: To rid the firebrand Republican senator of his ardent desire to kill the federal Export-Import Bank, which they said would greatly harm the export-driven small businesses that Cruz of Texas often extols.

The result: failure.

“At the end of the meeting, there were a lot of angry Texans there,” said Schubert, who identifies himself as a Tea Party Republican. “We didn’t come there to talk the talking points. We were there to talk the complexities of international trade.”

The Export-Import Bank guarantees loans to overseas customers of thousands of US companies. Without congressional reauthorization, it will cease to exist after June 30 — an 81-year-old institution felled by the passions of the Tea Party movement.

Conservatives hold the bank up as the essence of crony capitalism, a market-distorting favor factory for huge companies like Boeing and Caterpillar. Its death, they argue, would herald a new era of free-market governance.

In the past two weeks, the battle over whether to save it or let it die has begun in earnest.

For conservatives, frustrated by their failure to overturn the Affordable Care Act or stop US President Barack Obama’s immigration policies, killing the Export-Import Bank has taken on enormous importance. They do not have to overcome a presidential veto or beat a Democratic filibuster. They simply have to refuse to bring it to a vote. Republicans have no excuse, said Michael Needham, chief executive of Heritage Action for America, one of the groups demanding the bank’s demise.

“All Congress has to do is nothing, which they have proven themselves to be pretty good at,” he said.

The business leaders who are pleading for a reprieve, many of them Republicans, are in disbelief and are promising retribution.

“Crony capitalism, crony capitalism, that’s all they ever say, over and over again,” said Randy Barsalou, a Republican and an owner of BCH Trading Co, a small lumber exporter in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Barsalou is pressing his state’s congressional delegation to support the bank.

“If my guys don’t get behind this, I can tell you I won’t be voting for them,” he said.

For Republican lawmakers, the calculation is that killing the bank is not likely to hurt them politically. Powerful business groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers might say they ardently support the Export-Import Bank, but other Republican positions on low taxation and light regulation will keep them from exacting a price on Republican lawmakers for the bank’s death.

That is one reason Republican presidential hopefuls like Jeb Bush, former Florida governor, who once supported the bank, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker have recently joined Cruz and senators Rand Paul and Marco Rubio in embracing its demise.

“It’s a top priority for the chamber, and we’ve made that very clear,” said Blair Holmes, a spokeswoman for the group. “But we are not a single-issue organization. Our ‘How They Voted’ scorecard is based on a cross section of congressional votes on issues important to the business community.”

Still, the chamber, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Aerospace Industries Association and 46 other business associations assembled the Exporters for Ex-Im Coalition. The coalition flew in more than 650 small-business leaders, suppliers and local chambers of commerce members for 400 meetings with representatives, senators, staff members and committee aides on Capitol Hill on Feb. 25.

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