Republican lawmakers who want to save the Export-Import Bank pushed for changes to its operations as they tried to balance strong conservative opposition to the agency with vocal support from business executives worried its disappearance would harm the economy.
During a six-hour House Financial Services Committee hearing Wednesday, supporters said they were concerned that allowing the bank's charter to expire Sept. 30 would damage U.S. companies because China, Russia and many European nations have similar programs to boost their exports.
"If we just end our Export-Import Bank, I believe we are giving advantage to our foreign competitors," said Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.).
President Obama and Democrats want to reauthorize the bank for five more years and increase its overall lending cap by $20 billion, to $160 billion.
Bank loans and other assistance supported 205,000 jobs last year at no taxpayer cost, supporters said. The bank is funded through interest and fees on its assistance, and last year sent a record $1.1 billion in profit to the Treasury.
Many conservative House members, led by Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), want to let the bank go out of business. They argue its assistance to foreign companies to help them buy U.S. exports amounts to corporate welfare for Boeing Corp. and other large companies.
"If you're a politically connected bank or company that benefits from Ex-Im, no doubt you would like it to continue," said Hensarling, the committee chairman. "After all, it's a sweetheart deal for you. Taxpayers shoulder the risk and you get the reward."
Delta Air Lines Inc. Chief Executive Richard H. Anderson told lawmakers that bank assistance to foreign companies to buy Boeing jetliners hurts his company and costs the U.S. jobs.
"If we're serious about creating jobs, then this bank needs to be reformed," Anderson said, suggesting that the bank should be prohibited from financing the purchase of wide-body jetliners by state-owned foreign airlines.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups are pushing hard for the bank's reauthorization, so business-friendly Republicans are looking to propose reforms to appease critics and keep the bank open.
Rep. John Campbell (R-Irvine) said he's leading a group of Republicans working on possible changes to the bank's operations.
Bank President Fred Hochberg told lawmakers that it made several improvements in recent years, including adding a chief risk officer to help limit potential loan losses. But he said that a prohibition, for instance, on the bank financing some Boeing wide-body aircraft exports would open the door for Europe's Airbus Group to sell those planes.