Business groups step up fight on Ex-Im Bank

A day after the incoming House majority leader said he supports letting the charter of the Export-Import bank expire later this year, two powerful business groups said Monday that they are stepping up their fight to keep the bank in business.

The Ex-Im Bank, which makes loan guarantees to foreign customers buying from U.S. exporters, has become the latest flash point between business leaders and conservatives who say the system is a form of  "corporate welfare."

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the outgoing majority leader, helped the bank win reauthorization two years ago. But Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is set to take over as majority leader following Cantor's unexpected primary loss, said Sunday that the bank is "something government does not have to be involved in. The private sector can do it." McCarthy was among those who voted to reauthorize the bank in 2012. Its current charter is set to expire at the end of September.

"Business leaders are perplexed by the inside-the-Beltway campaign against the Ex-Im Bank," Tom Donohue,  president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in call with reporters Monday.

The Chamber and the National Association of Manufacturers announced a new coalition to press for quick action on the bank and released a letter from 865 organizations that argue that the bank helps level the playing field for U.S. companies and creates thousands of American jobs.

Jay Timmons, president and CEO of NAM, said his group has brought on three heavy hitters to help make their case on the Hill: Haley Barbour, a former Mississippi governor and chairman of the Republican National Committee; Dick Gephardt, the former House Democratic leader; and Tony Fratto, who served in the second Bush White House.

In addition, "There is a lot of grass-roots and grass-tops activity going on right now and there is going to be more," Timmons said.

The Chamber, which has boosted GOP candidates against tea party challengers in primaries across the country this year, has been holding meetings across Capitol Hill on the bank, Donohue said. The Chamber's members have also been active; there are more than 3,000 small businesses that benefit from the bank's financing and they "are all located in somebody's district," he said.

"I don't know how this will all work out," Donohue said, "but the Ex-Im Bank will not fade quietly into the sunset."

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