Key Republicans in the House of Representatives stepped up their assault on the Export-Import Bank on Wednesday, vowing to kill the federal bank that helps U.S. businesses sell their products overseas.
In this case, it could be an easy lift for bank opponents: Without a vote to extend its charter, the bank will be forced to shut down June 30.
“They have the advantage, because to do nothing is to get what they want,” Washington state Democratic Rep. Denny Heck said in an interview.
No state, by far, has more on the line than Washington: Led by Boeing, 234 of the state’s companies have lined up financing for exports valued at $135 billion since 2007, accounting for nearly half the bank’s total lending.
At a hearing of the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday, Heck asked Fred Hochberg, the bank’s chairman and president, whether it was “plausible” that Boeing might move some of its manufacturing facilities out of the country if Congress closes the bank.
“Without question, that’s a very real possibility,” Hochberg told Heck.
Heck, Washington state’s only representative on the panel, promised an “all hands on deck, all the time” effort to get a winning vote in the House to save the bank, commonly known as Ex-Im.
The issue is a top focus for the state’s senators as well. Last month, Democratic Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray withheld their support for an unrelated trade bill until Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky agreed to allow a vote on extending the bank’s charter.
Murray said the bank played a crucial role in creating jobs in the state and across the country.
“I am hopeful that my colleagues can put ideology aside so it can continue to receive the strong bipartisan support we’ve seen in the past,” she said in a statement Wednesday.
At the hearing, the bank came under increased attack from the committee’s chairman, Republican Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas. He said Democrats who wanted to extend the bank’s charter “are simply throwing Wall Street a big wet kiss.”
Hensarling said it was time to “wind down” the bank, arguing that it interferes with private markets and ends up picking winner and losers.
He took specific aim at Boeing, saying the company receives one-third of the bank’s support and spent $35 million on lobbying in the last Congress to help keep Ex-Im afloat.
“Their top five executives made $48.6 million in 2013 alone,” Hensarling said. “The public reports from the other top beneficiaries of Ex-Im – like GE, Caterpillar, Exxon Mobil – look pretty similar.” He said executives of the large companies were getting rich because proponents of the bank in Congress were “doing everything” to help them.
Other opponents said the bank was an example of corporate welfare.
“I come to the conclusion that it’s beyond broken,” said Republican Rep. Bill Huizenga of Michigan.
Hochberg defended the bank, saying it has an 81-year history of winning bipartisan support in Congress, including a 2012 vote to extend its charter that drew backing from 330 House members and 78 senators.
“Ex-Im Bank does not pick winners and losers,” he told the panel. “Rather, it serves any eligible American business seeking competitive financing to export goods and services.”
Hochberg said the bank created U.S. jobs by helping more companies export their goods, aiding them as they did business in countries that offered generous financing incentives to their own companies. And he said the bank charged fees and interest for financial services and had sent nearly $7 billion to the U.S. Treasury over the past 20 years.
Heck said the closing of the bank would lead to job losses in Washington state but that it was impossible to know how many.
“It’s going to mean, in the very short term, the loss of a bunch of jobs among small businesses,” he said. “As it relates to the giant, namely Boeing, I don’t believe it means layoffs right away. I absolutely believe it means layoffs over the long term.”
Hensarling noted that 99 percent of U.S. exports are financed without help from Ex-Im. He questioned why more Democrats who are concerned about exports aren’t backing President Barack Obama’s request for fast-track trade authority, a plan aimed at making it easier to pass a 12-nation Pacific Rim trade pact.
As the top recipient of bank loans, Washington state has found itself in the spotlight of the debate.
When Secretary of State John Kerry went to Washington state last month to pitch Obama’s trade agenda, he visited a Boeing factory in Renton and praised the company as the nation’s leading exporter and “an incredible innovator and competitor.”
He said the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area was the nation’s fourth-largest export hub, and that the State Department had worked “hand in hand with Boeing” and the Commerce Department and the Ex-Im Bank to sell planes overseas.
“Together we have helped facilitate . . . billions of dollars in aircraft sales, everywhere from Indonesia to Brazil to Kenya, and I’m proud of that,” Kerry said.