As the charter of the Export-Import Bank was set to expire Tuesday, supporters warned of economic damage if Congress doesn't act quickly to reauthorize the federal agency when lawmakers return next week from a holiday recess.
"We are undermining thousands and thousands of jobs," said Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). "This is unilateral disarmament in the competition for jobs and sales in the world."
Business groups and Democrats, who strongly back the bank, organized news conferences and calls with journalists to try to increase the pressure on House Republican leaders to allow a reauthorization vote.
Even President Obama was getting personally involved.
The White House said he scheduled a conference call Tuesday with elected officials, business owners, and labor leaders to discuss the importance of reauthorizing the bank, which provides loans to foreign buyers of U.S. goods and other assistance to support exports.
"We are facing the cold reality of the Ex-Im bank authorization expiring," said Aric Newhouse, a senior vice president at the National Assn. of Manufacturers.
"This is a critical blow to manufacturers," he said.
Dick Rogovin, chief legal counsel at U.S. Bridge, a Cambridge, Ohio, manufacturer, said a nearly $100-million sale to Ghana is in jeopardy without Export-Import Bank assistance.
"We have already received a very disturbing message ... that one of our competitors from China has informed our customer that they cannot secure financing for our bridges and therefore they should consider another source," said Rogovin, whose company has about 150 employees.
"Ex-Im Bank was going to guarantee a long-term loan to Ghana," he said. "There is no U.S. domestic commercial bank that will perform the same service."
Newhouse and business executives blamed politics for the failure to reauthorize the bank, which has helped U.S. exporters for 81 years.
The bank, similar to export-assistance agencies in about 60 other countries, provided $20.5 billion in aid last year that that financed $27.5 billion worth of U.S. exports. The bank is funded by interest and fees paid by users and last year sent $675 million in profits to the U.S. Treasury.
But many conservative Republicans complain that the bank mostly helps large corporations, such as Boeing Co., putting taxpayers at risk for any losses the bank can't cover on about $112 billion in outstanding assistance.
Critics say the assistance amounts to crony capitalism, with government officials picking winners and losers in the marketplace.
“This is a small step toward renewing a competitive free-market economy and arresting the rise of the progressive welfare state and the cronyism connected to it," said House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), a leading bank opponent.
About 195 pending bank transactions, totaling more than $9.1 billion in assistance, will be put on hold by the lapse of its charter, said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles).
"Unless Congress acts to renew the Bank’s charter, these transactions – and the American jobs they support – will hang in the balance," said Waters, one of the bank's most outspoken advocates.
Bank supporters are hoping the lapse of the bank's charter, which expires at 9 p.m. Tuesday, will be temporary.
There are bipartisan majorities in the House and the Senate that support the bank and the opposition by key House Republican leaders to holding a vote could be overcome if reauthorization is attached to other legislation, such as a looming highway funding bill.
Supporters said they plan to increase the pressure on House GOP leaders through public outreach and personal lobbying.
In the meantime, the loss of bank assistance could be damaging, said Don Nelson, president of ProGauge Technologies Inc. in Bakersfield.
His firm, which makes oil industry equipment, could lose a bid on a $30-million project in the Middle East this summer if the bank isn't able to help provide the guarantee that would be needed for the project.
Nelson, who is on the bank's advisory committee, said opponents “have little conception of the realities of international trade and finance.”
"They really don’t have a clue of what they’re doing or the damage they’re going to inflict on small business in America by closing the Ex-Im Bank," Nelson said.
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