WASHINGTON - In a victory for the business establishment over tea party conservatives, President Obama signed legislation Friday reviving the Export-Import Bank five months after Congress allowed it to expire.
The bank is a small federal agency that makes and guarantees loans to help foreign customers buy U.S. goods. A measure extending it through 2019 was included in the transportation bill that cleared the House and Senate late Thursday.
The development was cheered by business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which say the Ex-Im Bank is necessary for U.S. competitiveness since most overseas competitors rely on similar government help.
But conservatives pushed by the billionaire GOP Koch brothers, Charles and David, decried the development, arguing that the bank amounts to government interference in the free market and that many of its beneficiaries are large corporations that don't need help.
The bank's revival "is especially offensive to taxpayers who want to end corporate welfare handouts and let the free market finance overseas investments by American companies," said Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.).
Rubio is among the GOP presidential candidates and other Republicans who have lined up against the bank, a once-obscure entity that has become a cause celebre for conservatives. For decades it was renewed by bipartisan agreement, with little or no debate.
But after the Kochs and other conservative groups began to seize on the opportunity to kill off a federal agency, some leading Republicans turned against it.
Congress failed to act when the bank's charter was up for renewal June 30, letting it expire for the first time in its 81-year history.