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

On Jan. 28, Representative Stephen Fincher introduced legislation to reauthorize the bank for five years, gathering 57 Republican co-sponsors. Heritage Action responded last month with automated telephone calls in the districts of 31 of those Republicans, blasting them for supporting “a slush fund for corporate welfare.”

Business groups and the bank’s biggest beneficiaries, like Boeing, General Electric and Caterpillar, have hired lobbyists and consultants. Conservative groups like the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity are rallying the Tea Party grassroots.

Starting this month, Americans for Prosperity (AFP) has committed to spending “well into the six-figure range” to kill the bank, said Levi Russell, a spokesperson for the group. That will go for television and digital advertising, phone banks, direct mail and activist visits to lawmakers’ Capitol Hill and district offices. The targets are 93 House Republicans who they see as willing to block action on the bank’s reauthorization, enough to commit a majority of the Republican majority to the bank’s demise.

“Before, there were two kinds of people: People who didn’t know it exists and people who love it because they use it,” Russell said of the bank. “This year, the education component is done. We’re now in position to ramp up the grassroots side. This is very important for us. You’re going to see AFP put significant resources into the fight.”

So will Club For Growth, a well-financed conservative political action committee, which vowed on March 4 to back any members of Congress who opposed the Ex-Im Bank if they were attacked by any establishment groups.

On the day of the pro-bank “fly-in,” Representative Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the House of Representatives Financial Services Committee, which has jurisdiction over the bank, wrote a letter to all Republican members proclaiming his opposition to its reauthorization and in effect telling them not to listen to the business leaders at their doors.

Less than 1 percent of 1 percent of small businesses benefit from Export-Import Bank, he wrote, while US taxpayers’ money goes “to help foreign corporations, including businesses that are owned by the governments of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.”

“The best way to level the playing field for American exporters and manufacturers is not with taxpayer subsidies, guarantees and politically driven lending, but instead with more opportunity,” he wrote. “A pro-growth agenda — including fundamental tax reform, American energy independence, cutting burdensome red tape and reducing abusive lawsuits — will do more to help our exporters, manufacturers and small businesses than the Export-Import Bank ever could.”

The business leaders who use the bank say they are baffled at such vehemence. The bank operates on fees it charges its users and, so far, has made money for the government. More important, it has created jobs — many of them. The bank contends that through its export financing, it has helped maintain 1.2 million private sector jobs since 2009.

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