2016 politics stir up Ex-Im debate

2016 politics stir up Ex-Im debate

House Republicans and 2016 White House hopefuls are headed for a collision course over whether to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank.

After years of bipartisan support, Ex-Im's charter has become a political litmus test for Republicans — and likely presidential candidates are caught in the crossfire.

In recent weeks, prominent GOP presidential hopefuls have spoken out against the bank, siding with powerful Tea Party groups like Heritage Action and Freedom Partners and portraying it as an example of cronyism and corporate welfare.

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It's all part of a high-stakes inside-the-Beltway lobbying war pitting those conservative groups against business community powerhouses such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.

The federally backed bank, which provides financing for U.S. exporting projects, shuts down on June 30, unless Congress votes to extend its charter.

Likely Republican presidential candidates including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioPessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire McConnell: Wearing a mask is 'single most significant thing' to fight pandemic McConnell goes hands-off on coronavirus relief bill MORE (Fla.) and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker have all attacked Ex-Im, bucking powerful business groups on a top priority ahead of their likely campaigns.

Bush, speaking in February to a group of conservatives, said the bank "should be phased out."

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, another likely GOP presidential candidate, told The Wall Street Journal said that she would "probably not" reauthorize Ex-Im.

On Capitol Hill, House Republicans are divided. Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), whose panel has jurisdiction over the bank, opposes it.

If Hensarling doesn't move a bill, GOP leadership would have to weigh whether to bring a bill to the House floor — a move that would no doubt upset Tea Party groups.

Last month, a spokeswoman for Rep. Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersHillicon Valley: Trump backs potential Microsoft, TikTok deal, sets September deadline | House Republicans request classified TikTok briefing | Facebook labels manipulated Pelosi video Top House Republicans request classified TikTok briefing More than 100 lawmakers urge IRS to resolve stimulus payment issues MORE (R-Wash.) — the fourth-ranking House Republican — told a local newspaper that she was "optimistic" the bank would be reauthorized.

The likely 2016 GOP candidates' criticism against the banks comes as Republicans have ramped up attacks aimed at portraying former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump touts economic agenda in battleground Ohio The Memo: Campaigns gird for rush of early voting Trump's pitch to Maine lobstermen falls flat MORE — the likely Democratic front-runner, who supports the bank.

"Presidential hopefuls understand they need to break the image of Republicans being beholden to Wall Street and corporate interests," said Dan Holler, spokesman for Heritage Action. "It puts Democrats like Hillary Clinton in position of defending corporate welfare."

Tea Party friendly favorites such as Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump-backed Hagerty wins Tennessee GOP Senate primary The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's visit to battleground Ohio overshadowed by coronavirus The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Key 48 hours loom as negotiators push for relief deal MORE (R-Texas), who already announced his candidacy, and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulTrump-backed Hagerty wins Tennessee GOP Senate primary Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's visit to battleground Ohio overshadowed by coronavirus MORE (R-Ky.), who is expected to do so next week, also oppose the bank.

Democrats say opposing the bank comes with its own set of risks.

One former Clinton White House and Treasury official, for instance, said that Democrats would be able to portray Republican Ex-Im critics as beholden to the Tea Party.

"GOP presidential candidates thought the Indiana law was an easy win and they badly miscalculated —being against Ex-Im will be worse," said the former official, referencing the past week’s firestorm over the Hoosier State’s religious freedom statute.

The former Clinton official said that Democrats would be able to hammer Republicans on the grounds that they are killing U.S. jobs out of deference to the conservative wing of the GOP.

"It will play right into voters worst fears about Republicans and the Tea Party," the former Clinton official said.

It's an argument that Rep. Gwen MooreGwen Sophia MooreBiden campaign adds staff in three battleground states On The Money: Dow plunges more than 1,800 points as rising COVID-19 cases roil Wall Street | Trump rips Fed after Powell warns of 'long road' to recovery Nursing homes under scrutiny after warnings of seized stimulus checks MORE's (D-Wis.) spokesman Eric Harris was already making.

"Tea Party extremists  — both in the House and on the presidential campaign trail — continue to mischaracterize this critical institution," said Harris, whose boss is a member of the House Financial Services Committee. "When it comes to the Tea Party, policy has always taken a backseat to politics, and the Export-Import Bank is no different."

The former Clinton official said "the real question is whether [Speaker John] BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBottom line Cheney battle raises questions about House GOP's future Lott says lobbying firm cut ties to prevent him from taking clients MORE can prevent that."

Boehner's own Ohio district is heavily influenced by the Export-Import Bank politicking. GE Aviation, a subsidiary of General Electric, has a plant just a short drive away, and many of the plant's 9,000 employees live in his district. The plant makes jet engines for airline companies like Boeing.

Local politics hasn't stopped Cruz from bucking the business community in the Lone Star State.

As The Hill first reported in February, Cruz came under fire from nearly 60 Texas businesses who met with his senior staffers earlier this year calling for the bank's reauthorization.

A Cruz spokesperson said that Cruz's opposition to the bank's reauthorization has always "been very clear."

The issue has also reversed typical political allegiances, nearly all Democratys aligned with the business community,  long with moderate Republicans.

Sens. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn Heitkamp70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents Susan Collins set to play pivotal role in impeachment drama Pro-trade group launches media buy as Trump and Democrats near deal on new NAFTA MORE (D-N.D.) and Mark KirkMark Steven KirkLiberal veterans group urges Biden to name Duckworth VP On the Trail: Senate GOP hopefuls tie themselves to Trump Biden campaign releases video to explain 'what really happened in Ukraine' MORE (R-Ill.) introduced bipartisan legislation in the Senate to reauthorize the bank through September 2019. Most observers expect the measure would pass the upper chamber.

Heitkamp pushed back against claims that the bank only helps big businesses.

“Republicans and Democrats who truly want to support small businesses ... have reinforced the need to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank," she said.  “Standing up for small businesses shouldn't be a political issue and I hope opponents of the Bank take the time to review our bipartisan, compromise bill."