Warren assails Export-Import Bank

Warren assails Export-Import Bank
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Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenOvernight Finance: Lawmakers grill Equifax chief over hack | Wells Fargo CEO defends bank's progress | Trump jokes Puerto Rico threw budget 'out of whack' | Mortgage tax fight tests industry clout Michelle Obama is exactly who the Democrats need to win big in 2020 Wells Fargo chief defends bank's progress in tense Senate hearing 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.

"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 HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampWells Fargo chief defends bank's progress in tense Senate hearing Dems plan to make gun control an issue in Nevada Red-state Dems need more from Trump before tax embrace MORE (D-N.D.) and Mark KirkMark KirkGiffords, Scalise highlight party differences on guns Stale, misguided, divisive: minimum wage can't win elections Immigration critics find their champion in Trump 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 McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGun proposal picks up GOP support Children’s health-care bill faces new obstacles Dems see Trump as potential ally on gun reform 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.