Heritage rips GOP lawmaker on Ex-Im Bank

Heritage Action criticized Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) on Monday for his company benefitting from the Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank, saying it is an example of “Washington working for itself.”

Collins is a co-founder and serves on the board of directors for Audubon Machinery Corp., which reported a combined capital guarantee and trade insurance worth $8.33 million between 2007 and 2014, according to Ex-Im records.

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Ex-Im was created during Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration in 1934, and it offers taxpayer-backed guarantees, loans and insurance to U.S. companies and corporations to allow such firms to do business overseas, such as was the case with Audubon.

Collins spokesman Grant Loomis and an Ex-Im representative each said Audubon did not receive a direct loan from Ex-Im.

But Heritage claims that doesn’t matter, saying Collins benefitting from Audubon has motivated him to push for Ex-Im’s reauthorization, which expires in September and has become a lightening rod in conservative circles.

Collins has been circulating a letter among his colleagues urging House GOP leadership to reauthorize Ex-Im, which expires in September. The letter is endorsed by The Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.

“Here’s Rep. Collins leading the charge of an entity that he’s personally benefitted from,” said Heritage Action spokesman Dan Holler in an interview. “That’s the definition of Washington working for itself. It reaffirms a negative suspicion on the political class here. Americans might rightly think that’s outrageous.”

Collins said he has touted his Audubon experience in meetings with lawmakers as an example of Ex-Im working.

“This shows how out of touch Heritage is with how jobs are created in this country. They don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re a think tank,” Collins said. “They’re not out in the real world. They’re not creating jobs and employing workers. They don’t know how things work. It’s as simple as their ignorance.”

Holler and Collins’s public sparing underscores just how far apart the Tea Party and GOP establishment are on Ex-Im. Heritage has criticized Ex-Im as “corporate welfare” and “cronyism.”

“The Republican Party is at a crossroads right now — it has to decide if it wants to continue to be on a path for a new generation as being on the side of big business, Wall Street and special interests, or if it wants to fight against corporate welfare and cronyism,” Holler said.

Ex-Im critics scored another political victory when The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board denounced the bank in a Sunday op-ed, writing: “We can't think of a better way for the party's Washington leadership to show they get that message than by pulling the plug on the Export-Import Bank. … Republican voters in particular want the cronyism to stop. House leaders need to show they get the message.”

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) does not support Ex-Im's reauthorization, and he's trying to get other conservatives to join him. Hensarling has announced plans to host committee hearings on Ex-Im in “the coming months.”

The issue puts space between a potential political battle brewing between Hensarling and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who supports Ex-Im. Both politicians are rumored to be mulling runs to replace House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) should he step down.

Tony Fratto, managing director at Hamilton Place Strategies and former Treasury and White House official, said eliminating Ex-Im might “deliver short-term political victory for a few members” but would hurt the U.S. economy.

"Republicans are being encouraged to self-destruct again in a misguided pursuit of ideological purity,” said Fratto, a former spokesman for President George W. Bush. “The bottom line is this: Failure to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank would wreak havoc on U.S. exports and export growth. … Foreign firms will cheerfully compete for overseas business with their own export credit support."

Collins said that Ex-Im has been instrumental in helping Audubon grow its business and help create jobs for the firm, based in upstate New York. He pointed to a recently awarded $1.5 million contract in January 2014 from Myanmar for 20 oxygen hospital systems.

“Audubon would never have been to fulfill the order without access to capital provided by a local bank with assurances for Ex-Im program,” Collins spokesman Grant Loomis said.

Collins reported $1 million and $5 million in year-end value of owned Audubon stock in financial disclosures filed in April 2013.

This story was updated on June 10 at 3:10 p.m.