Export-Import Bank President Fred Hochberg blasted his bank’s critics and made an impassioned plea to Congress not to shutter his agency in a fiery speech on Thursday.
The bank’s charter expires this fall, and without congressional action, the agency would shut down on Oct. 1.
House Republicans might be prepared to allow that to happen, with Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee telling colleagues he is opposed to reauthorization.
Hochberg told the bank’s annual conference meeting in Washington that opponents of Ex-Im are harmful ideologues.
“There's a vocal minority out there who can't stomach the thought that the government might have a role to play in empowering U.S. businesses to compete across the globe,” Hochberg said. “Of course, everyone is entitled to their own theories and dogmas — but theories don't pay the bills. Business owners like you live in the real world — and for you, those theories can trigger harmful repercussions.”
The Ex-Im Bank is tasked with providing reliable financing for foreign purchasers of U.S. exports. It is a major player in the aircraft, power and heavy infrastructure sectors.
Conservative groups like Heritage Action and Club for Growth say the bank is corporate welfare for crony companies, however.
“Now, as it turns out, not everyone understands the value that Ex-Im provides,” Hochberg argued. “That's despite our 80-year track record, despite supporting more than a million U.S. jobs over the last four years, despite the fact that we run a surplus for the American taxpayers, and despite the work we've done to propel thousands of businesses to new heights of global success.”
He said that, in 2013, the bank supported 205,000 U.S. jobs, helped 3,000 small businesses, had a low default rate of .025 percent, and returned $1.57 billion to the Treasury, helping reduce the budget deficit.
“I’m so proud of that number it’s the password on my iPhone,” he said.
The Club for Growth immediately fired back that the bank is a slush fund that needs to be shut down.
“The Export-Import Bank is nothing more than a taxpayer-backed slush fund that benefits a few politically connected companies more than anyone else, and it’s time to shut it down.” Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said in a statement.
“The Export-Import Bank has given subsidies to Solyndra. It’s given subsidies to Mexican drug cartels. It’s given subsidies to an oil company with ties to the Russian Mafia. It’s given subsidies to Enron. It’s subsidized Hollywood movies. It asked for a multi-billion dollar bailout before, and we have no doubt it will ask for one again in the future if it continues to exist," he added.
The Ex-Im Bank has repeatedly rebutted the charges in the Club's statement. It says it never gave funding to Solyndra, never gave direct funding to Enron, and the allegations of involvement with Mexican cartels and an oil company tied the Russian mafia are without basis. It said it supported four independent films but not Hollywood studio films.
Another influential conservative group, Heritage Action, predicted the Ex-Im bank will close.
"We believe American exporters can compete abroad and will continue to, even in the absence of the Export-Import Bank. Folks across the country are starting to view the Bank as a symbol of corporate welfare and cronyism in Washington," said Heritage Action spokesman Dan Holler. "While Hochberg did his very best to put the genie back in the bottle today by attacking Heritage Action and others, it won’t be enough to save the Bank."
The conservative groups have some allies in the corporate world. Delta is leading a charge to get the bank out of the business of subsidizing Boeing wide-body aircraft sales to foreign airlines, something Delta says hurts its competitive position.
A large swath of the corporate world supports Ex-Im reauthorization, so it is not inconceivable that Republicans would pass some bill with reforms by the fall. In 2012, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) spearheaded a reauthorization bill aimed at making the bank more transparent.
— This story was updated at 11:29 a.m.