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GOP split on Export-Import Bank worries business leaders

By Laylan Copelin, Austin American-Statesman
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

July 12--

The Beltway battle over the U.S. Export-Import Bank isn't likely to grab an audience whose appreciation of Congressional politics is gleaned from an episode of "House of Cards."

The issue lacks the diabolical cunning of the fictional Majority Leader Frank Underwood, who has a habit of speaking to the camera to expose the truly dark urges in his heart.

A recent flip-flop by newly elected House Majority Leader Keven McCarthy, R-California, doesn't count as diabolical -- just a practical exercise in reading the tea (party) leaves -- but McCarthy's new-found opposition to the Export-Import Bank puts institution at risk.

As majority leader, McCarthy is a gatekeeper for the U.S. House's agenda. Unless Congress reauthorizes the Ex-Im bank, its 80-year run ends Sept. 30.

The Ex-Im bank uses taxpayer funds to provide loans, loan guarantees and credit insurance to facilitate U.S. exports. It charges companies a fee for the service.

The issue has American businesses on both sides.

For example, the U.S. bank helps Boeing's foreign customers afford the American-made jets, but Delta Air Lines complains that the U.S. assistance is subsidizing its foreign competitors.

Texans should pay attention for two reasons.

One is economic -- Texas has been the nation's leading export state for 12 years and the Ex-Im bank is crucial, its defenders say, to that segment of the economy.

In Central Texas, the Ex-Im bank has benefited 33 companies -- with almost $400 million in disbursements -- since 2008. One of the larger ones is Aereon, an Austin-based company that manufactures environmental equipment for the oil and gas industry and received $81 million in credit guarantees over that time.

Without the bank's support, Michael Haynesworth, Aereon CEO, said, "If we had to go to the private sector, we'd only have one-tenth the buying power."

The other reason to pay attention is how the Ex-Im battle exposes GOP fissures over the party's traditional support of business -- some would say "Big Business" -- that might be a prelude to our own legislative battles next year.

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Gov. Rick Perry, a GOP presidential hopeful, is advocating the continuation of the Ex-Im bank while U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, a crucial committee chairman, is one of its harshest critics.

To Hensarling, the Ex-Im bank favors politically-connected companies with sweetheart deals while taxpayers shoulder the risk. To Perry, the bank is a vital export tool that allows U.S. companies to compete against foreign rivals at no cost to American taxpayers.

The same strain over government's role with business is found among GOP voters.

According to last month's Pew Research survey, conservatives are united behind limited government and opposing President Barack Obama, but they have different views of big business.

Steadfast conservatives, as the Pew Center researchers labeled them, believe that large corporations have too much power and nearly half of them say the economic system unfairly favors powerful interests.

Business conservatives, on the other hand, overwhelmingly view business and Wall Street positively.

The Tea Party's growing hold over the U.S. House has one national business leader bemoaning the decline of pro-business Democrats in the chamber.

"Sadly, we accepted their losses and as a result, business became reliant on the benevolence of just one party," Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, said in a recent speech.

"Now today, there are fringe elements who are using intolerant social propaganda and distorting the records of honorable men and women, driving them into the wilderness of defeat...," said Timmons, referring to the recent defeat of U.S. Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Virginia.

Timmons urged his business audience "to stand up to the forces that are influencing important primary contests -- demonizing American business and trying to throw out those who are willing to actually govern."

Back in Texas, the business community largely has put its fate in the hands of one political party.

But for the first time, business leaders openly worry that a segment of the Texas GOP might kill off some of the taxpayer-funded programs that certain businesses enjoy.

I'm not sure.

Many times I've seen conservatives campaign against "government picking winners and losers," only to vote for taxpayer incentives for businesses because other states are doing it.

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If only we had a Frank Underwood to tell us what's really in their hearts this time.

___

(c)2014 Austin American-Statesman, Texas

Visit Austin American-Statesman, Texas at www.statesman.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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