Export-Import Bank Fight on Deck in Congress, Senate Campaigns

  • White House making pitch as critics charge corporate welfare
  • Bank is issue in Toomey’s close Pennsylvania Senate race

The Obama administration is making one more pitch in Congress to fully revive the Export-Import Bank -- which finances overseas sales by companies such as Boeing Co. and General Electric Co. -- as the agency has become a hot issue in the fight for Senate control.

Republican Senator Pat Toomey is touting his opposition to the bank in his tough re-election battle in Pennsylvania.

"I’m the senator who’s been fighting the Ex-Im Bank, which uses taxpayer money to subsidize foreign companies," Toomey said at a press conference last week in Harrisburg. The bank’s financial backing amounts to corporate welfare, he said as he slammed his Democratic opponent Katie McGinty, who supports the bank.

Toomey is a rarity in the Ex-Im fight: a Republican who has long opposed the bank, which dates to 1945 and has long had bipartisan support. Most other Senate Republicans facing difficult re-election races support the bank, with the exception of Marco Rubio of Florida. Republicans control the Senate 54-46 and may be in danger of losing the majority to the Democrats in November.

McGinty says Toomey is putting his conservative ideology over jobs.

"I tell you one that he can claim that he got done. And that is to kill the Ex-Im Bank that directly led to 1,500 jobs being lost in the GE plant in Erie, Pennsylvania," she said. "That was his signature initiative."

“He was asked repeatedly, begged, ‘please stand down, senator, you are hurting your own constituents,’" McGinty said. "But Pat Toomey got ’er done and 1,500 people got a pink slip."

For its part, GE didn’t blame the Ex-Im Bank for the layoffs in Pennsylvania.

For more information on the Ex-Im Bank, click here.

Once Congress returns to Washington next week, the administration wants lawmakers to restore full authority to Ex-Im as part of a must-pass bill to keep the government open after Sept. 30, according to an Office of Management and Budget document. That would free up billions of dollars in export financing in the bank’s backlog.

Although Congress revived the bank in December after letting its authorization lapse months earlier, it remains crippled because the Senate hasn’t acted on President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill a vacancy on its board of directors. As long as three of the five positions remain vacant, Ex-Im can’t approve transactions valued at more than $10 million.

House and Senate appropriators included a provision allowing Ex-Im deals to proceed in their regular spending bills, giving the idea bipartisan support.

But even though Obama’s board nominee was recommended by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican has been unable to persuade Banking Chairman Richard Shelby of Alabama to move the nomination out of his committee.

Speaker Ryan

The fight would also present a decision point for House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who opposes the bank and faces pressure from his right flank to keep it from approving large transactions.

Toomey, a former president of the conservative Club for Growth, is part of the Republican wing that generally opposes intervention in private industry, taking on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the corporations that benefit from Ex-Im’s financing and loan guarantees.

"When the government gives special favors to some businesses, that happens at the expense of all the rest of us," Toomey said last week. "I have been the tip of the spear in the United States Senate fighting corporate welfare and this kind of unfair practice."

Toomey -- seeking a second term in the Senate -- highlighted his opposition to ethanol mandates, sugar subsidies and corporate bailouts. He contended McGinty has profited from ties to corporations that benefited from government breaks.

Hundreds of companies in Pennsylvania have benefited from Ex-Im, according to the bank’s website, including Xcoal Energy & Resources LLC, a top coal exporter; Aquatech International Corp. and Lockheed Martin Corp.

Jobs in Waukesha

Even though GE didn’t blame the Ex-Im situation for its layoffs in Pennsylvania, the company has blamed Congress’s inaction on the bank for job losses elsewhere. GE cited the lapse of the bank’s authorization in announcing last year that it would move jobs from Waukesha, Wisconsin, to Canada.

Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin -- one of the most endangered incumbents this year, facing former Democratic Senator Russ Feingold -- flipped from opposition to support of the bank last year.

GE broke ground on the new factory in Canada last week.

— With assistance by Erik Wasson

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