By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Republican House committee chairman scolded Boeing Co and a large U.S. trade group on Monday for lobbying to keep the Export-Import Bank alive, saying their efforts amounted to petitioning for "special privilege."
Representative Jeb Hensarling wrote a scathing letter to Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, and James McNerney, chairman of Boeing, referring to reports they were visiting lawmakers to promote the reauthorization of the bank.
The 80-year-old bank promotes exports by offering financing to foreign buyers of U.S. goods, helping some major companies such as Boeing to compete internationally.
But Hensarling, a conservative Republican, said the bank's activity amounts to favoring multinational companies at the expense of U.S. taxpayers. The financial services committee he leads has jurisdiction over the bank, and Hensarling is trying to stop Congress from renewing its charter when it expires on Sept. 30.
"I respect your constitutional right to petition your government for the redress of grievances," Hensarling wrote to Timmons and McNerney. "I just wish you had used the occasion to petition for opportunity instead of special privilege."
Timmons and McNerney could come to see him on Capitol Hill as long as they were not promoting policies for taxpayer subsidies, in which case "a meeting would probably not prove to be a good use of our time," Hensarling said in the letter, which his office provided to Reuters.
A NAM spokesman defended the group's position, saying: "The NAM continues to be committed to manufacturers, their families and the communities they serve and protecting them by making sure the Ex-Im Bank is reauthorized."
A Boeing spokeswoman said the company had not received a letter from Hensarling, but that the Ex-IM bank was "vital" to Boeing's ability to compete successfully.
"We believe there exists a clear majority in Congress that supports the continuation of the U.S. Ex-Im Bank," she said.
Ex-Im bank supporters say that, in addition to helping big companies such as Boeing, it helps thousands of small U.S. businesses with trade credit insurance or loan guarantees. They argue that other countries do more to support their exports.
Last year, Ex-Im's loans backed $37.4 billion of U.S. exports and supported 205,000 U.S. jobs, the bank has said.
The bank used to be fairly uncontroversial, but growing opposition among Republicans has cast doubt on its future. The incoming House Republican majority leader, Representative Kevin McCarthy, has said he also thinks it should expire. The Democratic-run Senate is more favorably disposed, but Majority Leader Harry Reid has not set a vote on the issue.
Hensarling said that, while the bank might be helping some companies, it costs jobs at others, and he does not buy the argument that it levels the playing field with other countries.
"Over 98 percent of U.S. exports are financed successfully without Ex-Im and taxpayer backing," he wrote. "So I do not find the argument that 'Everyone else is doing it, so must we' to be particularly persuasive."
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell. Editing by Andre Grenon)