When Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was in his first year in the Senate, he took to the floor to oppose a bill on a program to manage federal helium that was about to expire and that all sides had agreed on.
The bill passed 97-2, with Cruz voting against it. What was striking was that the Federal Helium Reserve is based in Texas. He objected because all the proceeds from the sale of the lighter-than-air gas stored in Amarillo did not go to the U.S. Treasury.
Cruz, a candidate for president in 2016, has stuck to ideology ever since, even if it’s against home-state interests. The conflict has heated up over reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank of the United States.
Texas is the No. 1 exporting state and businesses say they need the bank’s credits to succeed overseas. The bank offers financing to U.S. companies selling overseas credits that conventional banks do not offer. It is self-sufficient, operating on fees and not appropriations, although it is backed by the federal government.
Cruz calls the bank “crony capitalism.” A meeting to discuss the bank earlier this year between his chief of staff and Texas companies erupted into a shouting match.
Many Texas businesses, institutions and consultants say they feel they cannot go to Cruz for help with government agencies, either because they think he won’t be interested or they think his anti-government fervor will prove counterproductive with bureaucrats.
“I’ve never heard any of my colleagues say, ‘I’ve got a problem and I’m going to Sen. Cruz,’ ” said Hector De Leon, an Austin-based lawyer who’s a Republican. “My experience and others’ I know is if you want some constituent service done, you go to Cornyn’s office,” a reference to Texas’ other senator, Majority Whip John Cornyn.
“The general feeling among Texas companies,” said a Washington lobbyist for a large Texas company, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, “is that no one can get anything out of that office unless it means an ideological agenda.”
Cruz was elected in his first run for elective office in 2012 with anti-government tea party support.
William Schubert, president of International Trade & Transportation Inc., a Houston-based company that manages large overseas projects, was one of those supporters.
Schubert is still reeling from a private meeting in late February with Cruz chief of staff Paul Teller, another Senate aide and a large group from the Texas business community. About 100 people from 68 Texas companies were in Washington as part of a national push from businesses worried over the looming July 1 deadline to reauthorize the Ex-Im bank.
“Ten minutes into the meeting we almost had a riot,” said Schubert. “It was condescending, with the talking points we hear all the time about ‘crony capitalism.’ ”
When one businessman with 500 employees said he’d have to lay off one-third of his workforce, he asked Teller what he should tell them. Schubert said Teller replied, “Tell them it’s for the greater good.”
Asked to respond, Cruz spokesman Phil Novack said in an email that “while we disagree with the characterization, we do not publicly share what transpires in private meetings.”
Schubert is quick to point to his conservative credentials, including serving in the George W. Bush administration as the chief of the U.S. Maritime Administration. “I also believe in practical conservatism,” he said. “You don’t kill your own jobs in your own state.”
Cruz’s office said he’d outlined his position in an opinion piece in USA Today: “The Export-Import Bank is big businesses’ big-government bank backed by U.S. taxpayers. It sends huge amounts of assistance to foreign corporations, buyers and companies that are hostile to our economic and security interests, but can afford armies of lobbyists to access easy financing backed by American taxpayers.”
Asked about how Cruz sees his role in serving constituents, spokesman Novack said, “When it comes to constituent services, Sen. Cruz welcomes and encourages input on all issues and causes.”
Air Tractor Inc., an employee-owned builder of crop-dusting and firefighting planes, is in Olney, Texas, 100 miles west of Fort Worth. “Our future growth will come from international market sales,” said David Ickert, the company’s vice president, who said Ex-Im provided a “tremendous program.” Without it, he said, a quarter of the 270 employees would be “at risk.”
Tyler Schroeder, a financial analyst with the company, attended the “rowdy” meeting with Cruz staff. “It did not go well,” he said. “It was all ideology.”
Texas business groups sent Cruz a letter April 15 signed by over 500 companies urging him to support the bank.
Mark P. Jones, chairman of the political science department at Rice University, said many Texans remembered the constituent service provided by Cruz’s predecessor, Kay Bailey Hutchison.
“Ted Cruz has much more of a national vision, a senator representing a conservative movement nationally,” said Jones.
In an interview, Hutchison, now a Dallas attorney, wouldn’t comment on Cruz. But she said, “My philosophy was ‘we go the extra mile.’ I always tried to represent the interests of Texas and Texas institutions. It’s a big part of the job.”