Sen. Ted Cruz and other conservatives told GOP leaders Wednesday not to let Congress revive the federal Export-Import Bank, an agency that financed the sale of U.S. goods overseas for decades but is creeping toward a slow death after lawmakers failed to renew its charter by the June 30 deadline.
Conservatives want the bank to stay dead, arguing the product of the New Deal handed out “corporate welfare” and should fade away once it meets its existing obligations.
“After 81 years, Congress finally, finally, finally decided to let a wasteful spending program expire,” said Mr. Cruz, Texas Republican, who is running for president.
“You’ll notice the sky hasn’t fallen,” he later added, peering up to the heavens outside the Capitol.
The 2016 contender rallied with likeminded Republicans, conservative groups and the Tea Party Patriots because supporters of the bank say they have the votes to resuscitate it in the coming weeks. They’re hoping to amend a highway bill in the Senate and send it to the House as must-pass legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, is committed to an open amendment process in the upper chamber and has acknowledged that the bank’s supporters want to use the highway bill as their vehicle.
The leader is trying to assemble a long-term bill before the highway fund lapses July 31, meaning the federal government would no longer be able to reimburse state and local governments for their road projects.
The House, however, is making the first move, passing Wednesday afternoon a bill that extends the highway fund through the end of the year. That would buy enough time for lawmakers to devise an international tax overhaul that could cobble together the $90 billion needed to fill the gap between projected costs and expected revenues from the federal gas tax over the next six years.
Known in Capitol-speak as “Ex-Im,” the bank’s supporters say it bolsters more than 160,000 jobs and helps U.S. goods compete overseas.
In a joint statement, the Texas Association of Business and Texas Association of Manufacturers said their members “rely on a host of tools to continue growing and hiring, including the Export-Import Bank.”
“Senator Ted Cruz has failed to understand that and chooses, again and again, to put politics ahead of economic progress and payrolls for his constituents,” the groups said.
Rep. Bill Flores, Texas Republican and chairman of the Republican Study Committee, said Wednesday it is unclear whether the GOP would move to block a legislative rule that would bring a Senate version with Ex-Im attached to the House floor.
Conservatives said it is up to Mr. McConnell and Speaker John A. Boehner to stand against Ex-Im, which they said benefits corporations with lobbyists at the expense of taxpayers. They even praised GOP leaders for letting the bank expire, saying no one had to lift a finger to let the bank wind down its existing lines of credit.
“If there’s one thing Congress is good at,” Mr. Cruz said, “it’s doing nothing.”
Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said it’s time for Mr. McConnell to play hardball in the Senate and block any Democratic amendment to revive Ex-Im.
Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, cast the situation in more dramatic terms, saying Ex-Im cannot become a “phoenix that rises from the ashes.”
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