DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Let's follow up on a story we heard about yesterday with the Republican Party's primary season winding down, the party establishment and Tea Party conservatives are shifting the focus of their fight. This time it's over a federal agency that helps to finance American companies in foreign trade. The legal authority for the Export-Import Bank expires in September. Small government conservatives are going all out to abolish it. NPR's Peter Overby reports.
PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: Business groups have been quietly lobbying all year to extend the Export-Import Bank's authorization. But earlier this month, conservative voters in Virginia unseated one of the bank's strongest supporters, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor - and a party primary. Cantor's replacement as House Majority Leader does not support the Ex-IM bank, as it's called. Here's California Republican Kevin McCarthy talking to Fox News on Sunday.
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CONGRESSMAN KEVIN MCCARTHY: I think Ex-Im Bank is one that's something government does not have to be involved in. The private sector can do it.
OVERBY: There are similar sentiments at the House Financial Services Committee. It's chairman, Texas Republican Jeb Hensarling held a hearing yesterday.
CONGRESSMAN JEB HENSARLING: Last year, more than 60 percent of Ex-Im's financing benefited just ten mega corporations that clearly have a strong political and lobbying presence in this town.
OVERBY: So now anti-tax small government groups are teaming up against the Ex-Im bank. They say this isn't like the government shutdown fights. In those, House Republicans had to pass some sort of budget. So they were boxed in. Here, all they have to do is defeat the reauthorization bill, and the Ex-Im Bank would be out of business. Leading the coalition is Americans for Prosperity, a social welfare group in the conservative network founded by billionaires David and Charles Koch. AFP helped organize the Tea Party movement four years ago. Now it's targeting law makers who are elected with Tea Party support.
TIM PHILLIPS: Speaking very directly - this is, for the most part, directed at House Republicans.
OVERBY: This is AFP President Tim Phillips.
PHILLIPS: There's been a feeling among a lot of Republicans that social welfare programs are wasteful and inefficient and don't really help people, but corporate welfare - oh, that's a good thing 'cause that's going to businesses. But that's - that's hypocrisy.
OVERBY: At the Financial Services Roundtable, Francis Creighton doesn't buy it.
FRANCIS CREIGHTON: I've never quite been clear about how that argument makes any sense when it's supposed to be a welfare program, but it sends money back to the government.
OVERBY: The bank's supporters argue that it collects fees for its loans and last year, sent a billion dollars to the treasury. Eight hundred and sixty-five companies and trade associations have signed a letter supporting the Ex-Im Bank - the Financial Services Roundtables among the leaders. Creighton, the Roundtable's head of government affairs, says their first goal is to win over a majority on the big 61-member financial services panel.
CREIGHTON: If you can get a big vote coming out of that committee going to the floor, half of your work is already done.
OVERBY: Another major defender of the bank, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It's been fighting Tea Party conservatives in the GOP primaries, and now it says it's going all-out on lobbying for Ex-Im. Christopher Wank, senior director of international policy, was outside the hearing room yesterday.
CHRISTOPHER WANK: It's shoe leather 101. You know, you've got to go office to office and talk to member, you know - member on member and talk to staff.
OVERBY: But the corporate welfare issue could have lags. It's already a rallying point for small government conservatives. This is Dan Holler of Heritage Action for America at a rally on Capitol Hill.
DAN HOLLER: Think about an election cycle where Republicans can credibly - and that' the key, credibly, right - it's not just the rhetoric - credibly claim that they are in Washington fighting against corporate welfare.
OVERBY: And at the Financial Services Roundtable, Francis Creighton expects more battles like this.
CREIGHTON: Yeah, I would - I would anticipate that this is the start of a longer conversation about what the right role of government is in the economy.
OVERBY: The Ex-Im Bank's current authorization expires September 30. That's also the end of the fiscal year, which is peak season for threats to shut down the government. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.