Conservative Republicans and the broader tea party movement have made a cause célèbre out of the little-known Export-Import Bank, which helps U.S. companies sell overseas by guaranteeing loans to foreign purchasers. The business community -- backed by many Democrats and President Obama -- says the federal agency is a critical tool that helps U.S. companies compete with foreign rivals. Many other countries provide the same type of financing to help their industries. Republicans, too, have long supported the bank, at least until the tea party started raising concerns in 2012 about whether it represented a giveaway to big business.
That year, then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) supported a deal that saved the bank. But amid howls that the bank is a symbol of "crony capitalism," Cantor's successor, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), has said he would like to see the bank's authorization expire, which is set to happen Sept. 30 without congressional action.
Now the twist: It turns out that the tea party had a prominent, onetime ideological ally in the fight against Ex-Im bank. His name was Barack Obama.
Weeks before he was elected president, Obama said the Ex-Im Bank was "little more than a fund for corporate welfare." A video of the remarks, above at the 30-second mark, was put online in 2012 by the Club for Growth, which opposes Ex-Im. Here were Obama's full remarks:
I am not a Democrat who believes that we can or should defend every government program just because it's there. There are some that don't work like we had hoped, like the Bush Administration's billion-dollar-a-year reading program that hasn't improved our children's reading. And there are some that have been duplicated by other programs that we just need to cut back, like waste at the Economic Development Agency and the Export-Import Bank that has become little more than a fund for corporate welfare.
I understand there are parts of these programs worth defending, and politicians of both parties who will do so. But if we hope to meet the challenges of our time, we must make difficult choices. As president, I will go through the entire federal budget, page by page, line by line, and I will eliminate the programs that don't work and aren't needed.
The administration now is strongly supporting reauthorization of the bank. I asked the White House how it reconciles its current position with Obama's remarks as a candidate. A spokesman, Eric Schultz, sent over this statement:
Since the President took office, the Ex-Im bank has served an important role in helping firms access financing when private sources of finance dried up as a result of the recession in the beginning of the administration. Since then, the Ex-Im bank has been a vital source for these firms, and is key to helping us achieve our export goals and supporting thousands of businesses across the country large and small. We urge Congress to act to reauthorize the bank
Pressed further on how Obama explains the change in his views since 2008, the White House added that Congress directed reforms to Ex-Im in 2012 that required, among other things, submitting quarterly reports to Congress about its default rate and submitting Federal Register notice for each transaction over $100 million. It also noted that President Ronald Reagan supported Ex-Im in the 1980s.