WASHINGTON - Faced with conservative opposition, House Speaker John Boehner is declining to take a position on renewing the Export-Import Bank, even though he's supported it in the past. His new stance deals a blow to a top priority of the business community.
The Ohio Republican told reporters Tuesday that he has a different job now and needs to work with GOP lawmakers to make sure they're comfortable with what he called a "rather controversial subject."
"Some people believe that we shouldn't have it at all, others believe that we should reauthorize it with significant reforms," Boehner said. "We're going to work our way through it."
The government agency provides loans, loan guarantees and credit insurance to help foreign buyers purchase American-made products. Its charter expires in September, and without legislation, it would not be able to back new loans.
Business groups are pushing hard for its renewal but conservative groups are opposed, saying it amounts to corporate welfare and that the private sector can fill its place.
The Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce joined with organizations from across the country in sending a letter urging Congress to swiftly reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, according to a statement issued by the local chamber.
"The benefits that the Export-Import Bank provides for businesses in South Carolina are vital for maintaining competitiveness and expanding opportunities for growth," said Bryan Derreberry, president and CEO of the Charleston Metro Chamber. "For these companies, especially small businesses, to be able to compete globally, they need Ex-Im's help to reach foreign markets and customers. If Congress fails to reauthorize Ex-Im, American companies would be put at a disadvantage in global markets, resulting in lost sales and lost jobs."
Boehner was speaker in 2012 when the bank was last reauthorized, and he supported it then, as did nearly half of the Republicans currently in the House, according to the Chamber of Commerce.
Since then the institution has emerged as a flashpoint in the struggles between establishment Republicans and the tea party wing. The newly chosen House majority leader, Kevin McCarthy, reversed his stance and came out against reauthorization in his first interview as leader over the weekend.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday that the Senate should take the issue up, though he said he's undecided on how he would vote.
Complicating matters for supporters, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that the bank has suspended or removed several officials in recent months in an investigation related to allegations of kickbacks and contract improprieties.
The Post and Courier contributed to this story.