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Hartford - For Nick Vasile, controller at the Gilman Brothers foamboard manufacturing plant in Bozrah, doing business overseas without the protection of the Export-Import Bank of the United States would be as frustrating as trying to earn a prize at one of those carnival ring-toss games.
The problem, he said, is the difficulty in prevailing in debt-collection lawsuits brought in foreign courts.
"You just can't win," Vasile said.
Vasile joined U.S. Reps. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, and John Larson, D-1st District, during a press conference Monday at the Legislative Office Building to push the case for Congress to reauthorize the so-called Ex-Im Bank, which has been in existence since 1934.
The bank provides direct loans, funding guarantees and insurance to companies such as Gilman Brothers that export their products overseas.
The bank's authorization expires Sept. 30, and Congressional Republicans are split on the necessity for the bank, with some on the tea party side of the aisle raising it as an issue of "crony capitalism." Libertarians and some conservatives say eliminating the Ex-Im Bank is a much-needed reform that could save the government from the same kind of problems that nearly brought down the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
But business interests, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have lined up behind the bank reauthorization even as Republican leaders delay a vote on the measure. Last week, 850 business organizations sent a letter "almost pleading" for the House and Senate to take action, Courtney said.
"All that's required is to do what we're elected to do - vote," Larson said. "We need a five-year renewal of the Ex-Im Bank."
"This should not be a partisan issue," added Oz Griebel, a former Republican gubernatorial candidate who is president and chief executive of the MetroHartford Alliance business group. "This is critical to the economic growth of the state and the entire country."
Courtney said some Republicans have painted the Ex-Im Bank as an institution favoring major corporations over small business. But he said small businesses are the majority of those using Ex-Im Bank services and pointed out that large overseas contracts won by major corporations such as United Technology can "light up the supply chain" of other, smaller businesses.
According to figures supplied by Courtney, the Ex-Im Bank backed $37 billion in U.S. exports last year, helping employ more than 200,000 Americans at hundreds of companies. Courtney said the bank is a net plus for the taxpayer, generating about $1 billion to offset the federal deficit, though Republicans dispute these figures, saying the numbers are accounting gimmicks that don't fully measure the risks inherent in the program.
The business leaders Courtney and Larson gathered for the press conference, which included representatives of Kahn Companies in Wethersfield and FuelCell Energy in Danbury, said their small to medium-sized companies would face higher costs and fewer opportunities if the Ex-Im Bank was not reauthorized. They would likely take fewer risks with little-known companies overseas, Vasile of Gilman Brothers said, limiting their prospects.
"Every major country in Europe and Asia have similar programs," said Frank Wolak, vice president of FuelCell Energy.
Vasile said he once used a private carrier to insure deals overseas in case foreign firms did not pay up, but switched to the Ex-Im Bank when his insurer tripled its rates. The relatively low rates the bank charges to protect U.S. business interests allowed Gilman Brothers to significantly expand its imports during a rough stretch in the economy starting in 2008 that otherwise might have meant a "tipping point" for employment at the plant, Courtney said.
"Having these programs available was critical in terms of retaining these jobs," he said.