Bill Clinton: Attacks on Ex-Im bank ‘ridiculous’

Former President Clinton fired back at critics of the Export-Import Bank on Tuesday, calling their attacks “ridiculous” and urging Congress to re-authorize the bank.

"Economics is not theology. If you're running a country, you've got to try to create an opportunity for all of your businesses to be competitive," Clinton said, while moderating a panel at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum, part of a three-day summit in Washington to promote the economic partnership between America and Africa.

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"That's all the Ex-Im bank does, and I've heard more ridiculous things said about the Ex-Im bank in the last six months than I have in my adult life," he added.

In his second question as moderator during the 45-minute discussion, Clinton asked General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt, a supporter of Ex-Im, to address the importance of the bank.

"We don't want to get in the middle of Washington's political wars, but how important do you think it is for the future prospects of getting more financing in Africa for American businesses to renew the Export-Import Bank?" Clinton asked.

"There's a lot of things to be critical about big businesses, and there's a lot of things that don't work in government, but exporting is not one of them and the Ex-Im Bank is not one of them," Immelt responded. "And the fact that we have to sit here and argue for it I think is just wrong.”

Immelt said the bank helps finance and support U.S. businesses looking to make inroads in markets that traditional financial institutions might deem too risky.

"But more so than anything else, Mr. President, is that it shows the U.S. cares," Immelt continued. "It speaks to the country's interest in a region, it's a competitive weapon, and it creates jobs here — lots of jobs, and it creates jobs in the countries we go to."

Tea Party groups and many GOP leaders, including House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), are urging Congress not to re-authorize the bank, whose charter expires at the end of September. If Congress doesn't re-authorize the bank, it will shut down.

Critics of the bank, which also include Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), say it's little more than "corporate cronyism" designed to prop-up companies like GE and Boeing.

Clinton has offered his support for Ex-Im in June during an interview with NBC's "Meet The Press," where he criticized then-newly crowned House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) for opposing re-authorization.

"What's the first thing he does after he becomes the No. 2 guy in the House leadership? What is the very first thing he does? He changes his position on whether we're going to fund the Export-Import Bank because the conservative politicians say, 'Oh, that's just a Wall Street crony capitalism deal,'" Clinton told "Meet The Press".

"That's not a Wall Street crony capitalism deal,” Clinton said. “That's a financing device that allows us to compete with the 60 other countries of the world who are trying to save jobs in their countries, and they helped finance exports."