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Warren assails Export-Import Bank

Warren assails Export-Import Bank
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Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOvernight Healthcare: Medical cures bill finally heads to White House Senate sends far-ranging medical cures bill to Obama's desk Sanders: GOP blocked 'Trump proposal' to lower drug prices MORE (D-Mass.) accused the Export-Import Bank Tuesday of failing to meet congressional mandates to finance small businesses.

Warren — who has said that she supports reauthorizing the Ex-Im before its charter expires June 30 — nonetheless called for reforms to the 80-year-old bank’s structure during a Senate Banking Committee hearing.

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"There is significant room for improvement in the bank's operations," Warren said at the hearing. "We should push the bank to do more for small businesses... We should hold the Ex-Im Bank accountable if it fails to reach those goals."

Congress requires 20 percent of Ex-Im’s financing portfolio to reflect small businesses. But in fiscal year 2013, small businesses made up just 19 percent. In fiscal year 2014, it was 24.7 percent.

Sens. Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampNorth Dakota rep under consideration for Energy post Five things to watch in Dakota Access pipeline fight Dem senator had 'constructive' talk with Trump MORE (D-N.D.) and Mark KirkMark KirkJuan Williams: McConnell won big by blocking Obama Battle for the Senate: Top of ticket dominates The untold stories of the 2016 battle for the Senate MORE (R-Ill.) are backing a reauthorization bill that would increase the threshold from 20 percent to 25 percent.

The bank's renewal has become a contentious battle in Congress, with conservatives split about whether to support the bank.

And while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellSenate fight over miners' heathcare boils over Congress to clear path for Mattis Senate holds two-hour Biden lovefest MORE (R-Ky.) has said he will hold a vote on the bill despite his personal opposition, it's unclear whether any type of reauthorization bill would be able to pass the House.

Moderate Republicans, Democrats and the business community — including the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce —favor the bank's reauthorization.

Supporters argue that the bank's backing of big businesses like Boeing helps sustain thousands of U.S. jobs.

But critics of the federally backed bank argue that it crushes competition by choosing to finance big businesses as opposed smaller companies.

Linda Dempsey, NAM's vice president of international economic affairs; and John Murphy, the Chamber's senior vice president for international policy; both praised Heitkamp and Kirk for their bill. But they stopped short of backing the provision  raising the small business threshold to 25 percent.

Senate Banking Committee chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) was seemingly taken aback by Warren's attack on the bank. The lawmakers frequently butt heads on political issues but Shelby said that he agreed with Warren's assertions.

Like Warren, he too is expected to support the bank's reauthorization provided there are reforms to its structure.

"Sen. Warren had some real poignant questions today," Shelby said after the hearing. "I have been advocating for a long time that the Export Import Bank shouldn't be for one or two companies and that's what it's for, basically."

Shelby criticized the Kirk-Heitkamp legislation, saying that "a lot of people don't believe that Kirk-Heitkamp is a real reform bill."

Shelby didn't say whether he would introduce his own reauthorization bill. Ex-Im Bank chairman Fred Hochberg is scheduled to testify in the House on Wednesday and in the Senate on Thursday.