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Export-Import Bank Set To Expire At Midnight After Congress Fails To Act


A big battle over a tiny federal agency is still roiling Capitol Hill. The Export-Import Bank - we'll get to what it does in a minute - is set to lose its authorization at midnight. That's because Congress went home last week without renewing it, but the fight goes on. Here is NPR's Peter Overby.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: The job of the Export-Import Bank is to promote U.S. exports by financing deals with foreign buyers. But tea party groups and other conservatives have been targeting the bank for several years now. So this spring has been a costly, hard-fought battle, a showdown of top power players, from Capitol Hill lobbyists to campaign strategists. Backing the bank - some of Washington's most powerful corporate players; and in the other corner - conservative political groups better known for their campaign muscle in elections. The bank's defenders say it's good for the U.S. economy and U.S. jobs. Here's a warning delivered last week by General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt.


JEFFREY IMMELT: Good GE jobs in the United States will be moved to Canada and Europe. That's a mighty high price to pay for ideological purity.

OVERBY: The National Association of Manufacturers is leading the lobbying coalition of exporters for the Ex-Im Bank. NAM senior vice president Ned Monroe says what counts here is old-fashioned, shoe leather lobbying on Capitol Hill.

NED MONROE: Job creators, manufacturers meeting with undecided members of Congress, one-on-one talking about how the Ex-Im Bank creates jobs. That's how you win votes.

OVERBY: But conservative groups argue that Ex-Im is a prime example of waste, corruption and what they call crony capitalism.

ANDY ROTH: Even though Ex-Im Bank is a small agency, the debate over its existence is much, much larger.

OVERBY: This is Andy Roth, a vice president at Club for Growth.

ROTH: There are too many members within the Republican Party who either have a liberal ideology or they're beholden to special interests. And that needs to be fixed.

OVERBY: Club for Growth is better known for its campaign work, enlisting hard-line conservatives to take out more moderate incumbents in Republican primaries. But this spring, it's been sending messages to Republican lawmakers who've been undecided on Ex-Im; for example, Phil Roe from east Tennessee.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Congressman Phil Roe hasn't made up his mind about the Export-Import Bank. Maybe we can help him. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama support the crony capitalist Ex-Im Bank.

OVERBY: Also opposing the bank are billionaires David and Charles Koch. Their company, Koch Industries, is lobbying against it. Their top lobbyists wrote lawmakers saying they oppose all subsidies, including, quote, "programs that benefit us." And last week, the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity held a live-streamed forum that shot across social media, criticizing the Ex-Im Bank. The sole speaker was Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio. He said Ex-Im is very good to his home state - Florida.


MARCO RUBIO: I think we are the second-largest beneficiary of Ex-Im Bank loans in the country.

OVERBY: But he continued.


RUBIO: What you really have here is a government-funded program that allows not just money to flow to those who are politically connected, but in fact money to flow overseas.

OVERBY: The conservatives may have won this round, but the fight's far from over. Some congressional leaders believe that when Congress comes back to Washington, the votes will be there to renew the bank. But even if that's true, the bank's opponents will carry the fight to the campaign trail. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Overby has covered Washington power, money, and influence since a foresighted NPR editor created the beat in 1994.
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