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Obama: Export-Import Bank Vital to US Exporters

President Barack Obama talks during his meeting with small-business owners and members of Congress to discuss the importance of the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, July 22, 2015.

President Barack Obama said Wednesday that Congress was hurting American exporters by allowing the U.S. Export-Import Bank's charter to expire.

Obama spoke after meeting with executives of 10 small and medium-size businesses that use Ex-Im's help to export goods.

Ex-Im is a government agency that sells companies a kind of insurance that protects U.S. companies if a foreign customer does not pay for an order. It also provides financing in some cases.

Conservative Republicans in Congress blocked efforts to renew the charter, and they are now working to block parliamentary maneuvers intended to revive the agency. Republicans say the vast majority of U.S. exports are made without help from the bank, and they call its efforts "crony capitalism" because the bank helps large, politically connected companies who don't need assistance.

Administration officials say the bank certainly helps major exporters, but they also pointed to many small firms that get assistance.

Obama told journalists that closing the 81-year-old government agency amounted to unilateral disarmament because "every other advanced country on Earth has a program like this." He said leaving American companies "high and dry" made "absolutely no sense."

"I know it's not as interesting as some of the other issues, and Donald Trump, and all that stuff," said Obama, referring to Trump's bid to be the Republican candidate for president. "But I'll tell you what: This is actually something that matters to people on the ground."

At the meeting with Obama, an official of a company called Air Tractor said that without the Export-Import Bank's help, it could drop a quarter of its 265 jobs making crop dusters in the three-stoplight West Texas town of Olney.

"We're a small business in a small town," David Ickert, Air Tractor's vice president of finance, told reporters. "We don't really understand why we're in this position."

"The bank is not a welfare entity. We all pay large amounts of money to use the bank. Glad to do it," Ickert said.

A renewal of the bank's charter could be attached this month to an unrelated transportation funding bill, but not if Republican opponents like Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio can stop it.

"We need to get through the next five legislative days and not have Ex-Im attached to anything," Jordan said.

Major differences between the House and Senate versions of the highway bill could delay an Ex-Im revival.

In the meantime, Obama said, efforts to sell U.S. goods overseas are stalled, which puts some American jobs at risk.

Some information for this report came from Reuters.