A handful of House Republicans took a shot at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Tuesday morning, blaming the pro-business group for wasting resources fighting to preserve the Export-Import Bank while losing the lobbying battle on Trade Promotion Authority.
"I came here to Washington "¦ and read the headlines about how the Chamber and various business interests were being out-lobbied, outfought on Trade Promotion Authority," said House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling. "And I just question—I guess this is somewhat a call to action for my friends in commerce. The resources don't seem to be lacking in fighting the battle on Export-Import. Why are the resources seemingly lacking for trade opportunity?"
Hensarling spoke at a gathering of Republican lawmakers opposed to the renewal of the Export-Import Bank, an institution they said is riddled with corruption and favors the well-connected. That view is shared among many House Republicans, but most Democrats—and some in the GOP—believe the trade-finance agency is an important tool that sustains thousands of jobs.
Rep. Justin Amash, perpetually a thorn in the side of the GOP establishment, said the Chamber's lobbying cash wouldn't go as far as constituents' input, but he took aim at the organizations backing the bank's renewal. "When you have the American people on your side, you don't need as many resources to fight the battle," he said. "I think it's shameful that there are organizations out there advertising on behalf of corporate welfare. This is a wealth transfer from regular Americans to politically connected people, and it's absolutely shameful."
The Chamber disputed that characterization, calling TPA and the bank complementary to boosting job growth. "The Chamber is engaged in an extremely significant effort with many coalition partners in the business community to enact legislation that facilitates faster, more robust economic growth and job creation and passage of Trade Promotion Authority and reauthorizing Ex-Im are part of those efforts," Bruce Josten, executive vice president for government affairs, said in a statement. "... We will continue our efforts on both fronts working with members of Congress and the administration."
Others at the press conference added forceful criticism of the Export-Import Bank, but did not take aim at the Chamber. "It's time for us to end the perks and privileges that go to the wealthy and well-connected," said Sen. Mike Lee. "We can't reform welfare until we start by ending corporate welfare."
Lee's egalitarian language was not out of place among the conservative speakers; FreedomWorks CEO Adam Brandon called on Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a progressive icon, to "join this fight." Meanwhile, Rep. Scott Garrett cited President Obama's past opposition to the bank and criticized the government's support of "mega-large corporations at the disadvantage of small business and American workers."
And while Democrats cite their near-unanimous support for the Export-Import Bank—and that of about a quarter of House Republicans—as evidence it will pass if given a vote, the Republicans said they don't think House Speaker John Boehner will give them that chance. "We will follow regular order," Hensarling said. "If [GOP] members don't want to take a vote, I'm trying to deliver on their wishes." House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan added that his members "don't anticipate" a deal between Boehner and Democrats to bring Export-Import renewal to the floor.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer responded to that soon after in a meeting with reporters. "Put it on the floor," he said. "It'll pass." Asked if Boehner would buck the majority of his caucus to move the bill, Hoyer responded: "If he wants to be antibusiness, I suppose he won't." He predicted the bank would earn the support of 235-240 members if given a vote.
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