WASHINGTON - Congressional squabbling intensified Tuesday over a controversial U.S. government agency that promotes American exports.

Conservative critics of the U.S. Export-Import Bank have called the agency a waste of taxpayers’ money and a needless intrusion into the free market.

Ex-Im provides loan guarantees and other services that help foreign customers of U.S. companies purchase American-made goods and services. Sixty other nations that compete with the United States operate similar export-support agencies.

Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee
FILE - Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee Jeb Hensarling (R-TX)

House Finance Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling said the bank picked economic “winners and losers,” a task he said was better left to the free market.

The Texas Republican also said most of the bank’s resources went to help a small number of huge companies that were well-connected politically and should not need government help.

“We want an economy where your success is dependent on how hard you work on Main Street, not who you know in Washington," said Hensarling.

The bank’s charter is expiring, and without congressional action, it will go out of business at the end of June. Republican Jim Jordan from Ohio said that was fine with him. “All Congress has to do is what Congress does best – nothing. And this thing (Ex-Im) goes away,” he said.

Some Ex-Im supporters told a subcommittee hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that Ex-Im’s actions supported 64,000 U.S. jobs last year and make important economic contributions in Texas, South Carolina, Massachusetts and across the nation.

Ex-Im President Fred Hofberg said most of Ex-Im’s customers were small companies, including firms that sell ice cream, fire trucks, small aircraft, pickles and many other products.

He said Ex-Im charged fees for its services, and has set aside billions of dollars to cover losses from loan defaults. Hofberg said Ex-Im was profitable and has also sent hundreds of millions of dollars to the U.S. Treasury.
More hearings are scheduled before both House and Senate committees in early June.