Some congressional Republicans are pushing not to renew the charter of the Export-Import Bank of the United States when it expires in September. The House Financial Services Committee held hearings on the bank's future last week. The committee chairman, Texas Republican Jeb Hensarling, is leading the push to get rid of it, calling it a corporate welfare program.
The bank was founded during the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. It provides low-interest loans to foreign purchasers looking to buy American goods, often working with buyers who wouldn't be able to get financing from under-developed banking systems in their countries. The bank also guarantees payment to the American exporters.
The bank's charter has been renewed fairly routinely for most of its history. In 2012, though, 93 Republicans in the House and 19 in the Senate - including Idaho's Rep. Raul Labrador and Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch - voted against it. Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson supported it.
This year, the conservative Heritage Foundation and Club for Growth have been urging Congress not to renew the bank's charter, arguing that it unfairly picks winners and losers in the free market. Delta Airlines CEO Richard Anderson said at last week's hearings that the bank has hurt his company by financing foreign competitors purchasing Boeing aircraft.
Treasure Valley businesses the bank says it has served in recent years include Drill Pro International Inc. in Nampa, Boise Cascade LLC, Dynamite Marketing Inc. in Meridian (doing business as Pharmtech), JST Manufacturing Inc. in Boise and Southwest Hide Co. in Boise.
Alex LaBeau, president of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, said the bank plays an essential role in guaranteeing businesses, particularly small ones, that they will get paid back. Most developed countries have their own equivalent institution to the Export-Import Bank, he said, and private banks wouldn't be willing to finance all the exports the Ex-Im Bank does.
"Unfortunately, the pinheads at the Heritage Foundation and some of these others have this myopic view that a government banking situation is somehow bad, and that needs to be opposed because that's the right and most conservative thing to do, when in fact, it is not," LaBeau said. "They have this view that government doesn't play a role in trade, which is just frankly inaccurate."
Crapo backed reauthorization in 2006, when he was chairman of the Senate Banking Subcommittee on International Trade, but also pushed for reforms to its operations.
That year, he invited the late Micron Technology CEO Steve Appleton to testify about the support the bank gave to his Boise semiconductor business.
Crapo now is waiting to see what the House does with this year's reauthorization, spokesman Lindsay Nothern said.
"Crapo has been supportive in the past, but we'll see what kind of version comes out of the House and if there is the funding to maintain it in the future," he said in a telephone message.
Majority Leader-elect Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif, favors letting the bank's charter expire. House Speaker John Boehner, who has supported the bank in the past, isn't taking a public position. Labrador is co-sponsoring a bill to abolish it. Bank supporters counter that the Ex-Im Bank supports thousands of jobs in the U.S. by making American goods accessible to the world.
Dozens of House Republicans have come out in favor of keeping the Ex-Im Bank. California Republican John Campbell, who is on the Financial Services Committee, has proposed reforming rather than abolishing it. The House Democrats back keeping it, as do the Obama administration and business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Obama called the bank "little more than a fund for corporate welfare" while campaigning in 2008. But he signed its 2012 reauthorization, and not a single Democrat voted against it in either house of Congress that year.
The Idaho Statesman contributed.