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Republicans Spar Over Survival of Export Agency

Darley Company officials say financing by the US Export Import bank helps them sell their products around the world. (Pictures courtesy of Darley Company)
Darley Company officials say financing by the US Export Import bank helps them sell their products around the world. (Pictures courtesy of Darley Company)

Conservative Republicans are squabbling with other parts of the party over the fate of the U.S. Export-Import Bank [Ex-Im]. Supporters say the Ex-Im helps U.S. businesses finance exports and is needed to compete with 60 other nations that assist competitors of U.S. firms.

Some members of the House of Representatives and Senate say the bank is a foolish intrusion into the market, a boon to politically-connected companies, and a waste of taxpayers’ money.

The Ex-Im Bank is a government agency and its authorization expires at the end of June. Without Congressional action, the bank would have to stop taking new customers and wind up its existing business.

Family business gets help

The bank has some supporters, including Peter Darley who makes fire trucks in Chicago, and sells vehicles and safety equipment all over the world, often with financing help from the U.S. Export Import Bank.

Darley told VOA that when commercial financing is not available, Ex-Im can arrange loans for his customers, making their purchases more affordable by spreading out payments over some time. He sold trucks to Lagos, Nigeria recently with Ex-Im help.

Many other nations offer help to their exporters, and Darley said without Washington’s help to give 108-year old family company a “level playing field” he would sell fewer products.

Critics: wasted money

The head of the House Financial Services Committee, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, is a leading critic of the bank, and has said it should go out of business because it mostly helps huge corporations that don’t need assistance, including “Some of the largest, richest, most politically-connected corporations in the world - like Boeing, General Electric, Bechtel and Caterpillar. In fact, in 2013 over half of Ex-Im’s financing went to a handful of Fortune 500 companies.”

Hensarling said a “smarter, fairer way” to boost exports would be to reform U.S. taxes, make strong trade deals, freeze regulations, and build projects like the Keystone pipeline.

In the Senate, Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio calls the government's export credit agency "corporate welfare" that wastes taxpayer dollars, manipulates the market, but provides help to very few small companies.

Supporters: growth and jobs

The head of the Export Import Bank, Fred Hochberg, said Ex-Im helps U.S. firms, large and small, that ask for assistance.

“Companies come to us and say we either have to meet the competition, because foreign governments are supporting our competitors, or we are selling in a market where conventional financing is simply not available,” he told VOA.

He said EX-Im plays a role in boosting exports, which have been a key part of U.S. economic growth. “We have a choice to make in America ... are we going to fully compete, and put jobs here in America?”

Hochberg said he is optimistic the Ex-Im Bank will survive.

Ex-Im has gotten support from its customers, that include some of the biggest companies in the United States, major business organizations and dozens of Republican members who wrote to the House leadership last year in support of the bank.

The issue will the subject of hearings on the House side next week, and in front of a Senate Committee in June.