A new coalition of 30 conservative, Tea Party and fiscal watchdog groups rallied Monday on Capitol Hill in opposition to renewing the charter of the federal Export-Import Bank.
The groups failed to beat the bank in 2012, but see a greater chance of success this time around, due in part to the ascension of Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) to chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.
“Before 2012 there was virtually no opposition to Ex-Im reauthorization. ... fortunately we have a principled conservative as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee,” said Larry Hart of the American Conservative Union to applause from assorted House staffers.
The groups said that since Ex-Im is one of the few must-pass pieces of legislation for the rest of this Congress, they plan to put more resources into the fight.
Their focus will be on winning over Republicans, since the issue splits the party. Republicans closer to the establishment tend to back the bank, while fiscal conservatives aligned with the Tea Party are more skeptical.
The bank’s charter expires on Oct. 1. The advocates said their message to Congress is “do nothing,” since failing to renew the charter would be the end of the 80-year-old bank.
The groups portrayed Ex-Im bank as a “slush fund” for friends of the Obama administration.
“This is an entity that rewards having buddies and friends in high places, and that’s what it is about,” said Tim Phillips of Americans for Prosperity. “It is not fair when a company that is not as well connected doesn’t have a level field to compete with its own products and services.”
He said AFP will be holding events in select House districts to pressure more conservatives to oppose the bank. The 2012 reauthorization passed with only 93 Republicans in opposition.
The coalition was organized by AFP. It includes well-known organizations like Club for Growth, Heritage Action for America, National Taxpayers Union, R Street Institute, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Council for Citizens Against Government and FreedomWorks as well as Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform.
“It unfairly hurts domestic companies and risks billions of taxpayer dollars. By paying foreign companies to buy American exports, the Export-Import Bank tilts the playing field away from mid-sized and small businesses in favor of large, politically connected corporations,” the groups said in a May 1 letter to members of Congress.
Hart ackowledged that getting the grassroots excited about Ex-Im is a challenge but said he hopes hearings that Hensarling plans to hold in the coming months will mobilize the public against Obama’s “crony” bank.
The Export-Import Bank on Monday defended its record and denies it plays political favorites.
"Ex-Im Bank proudly stands behind its 80-year track record of supporting American jobs through exports. We supported nearly 1.2 million jobs here at home over the last five years, including 205,000 American jobs last year alone,” spokesman Matt Bevens said.
"The Bank is also fiscally responsible, having sent more than $1 billion to the U.S. Treasury in 2013 — an all-time record — for deficit reduction, and we did so with a historically low active-default rate of less than one quarter of one percent,” it said.
Renewal of the bank is supported by a coalition of business groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.
"Opponents of the bank continue to ignore the crux of the Ex-Im issue: American jobs and American manufacturing competitiveness. Manufacturers big and small, in communities across the country, face a highly competitive global economy with over $11 trillion in traded manufactured goods up for grabs each year," said NAM Vice President Linda Dempsey.
"When they lose out to foreign competitors for sales, our nation’s manufacturers are faced with tough choices as they struggle to make payroll and keep their business on track."
Opponents said at the rally that the bank uses opaque accounting methods so it may be adding to the deficit, and argued that its statistics on jobs are without basis.