BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu is making a campaign issue out of a congressional fight over a little-known banking agency targeted for elimination by conservative Republicans.
The Democratic incumbent, seeking her fourth term in office, is a strong supporter of the Export-Import Bank, which helps finance exports of U.S. companies. Landrieu said it promotes trade, creates jobs and helps small businesses.
Her re-election campaign has been hammering her Republican opponent in the Nov. 4 election, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, to state a position on whether to renew the bank's charter, which expires in September.
"Congress must reauthorize the Bank as soon as possible so that it can continue to help Louisiana businesses continue to export goods and services to world markets and import jobs," Landrieu said.
Cassidy is hedging on the issue, raising questions about the worth of the Export-Import Bank without saying outright that he opposes its charter renewal. He said the bank costs taxpayers $200 million a year and largely benefits big, already profitable corporations.
"The Inspector General said that the bank has not been careful in making sure that the jobs it helps to generate are created in the United States and not overseas. All of this calls into question whether the Export-Import Bank is worth the cost to taxpayers. Very serious reforms are required before considering re-authorization," Cassidy said in a statement.
The bank provides loans, loan guarantees and credit insurance to foreign customers that buy U.S. goods. Dispute over its reauthorization puts Cassidy in a tough spot, choosing sides between business-backed establishment Republicans who support the bank and tea party groups who call it a form of corporate welfare.
The long-shot Republican candidate in Louisiana's Senate race, tea party favorite Rob Maness, opposes the bank's renewal, describing it as a drain on the economy that is at odds with "free market solutions."
Landrieu held a conference call with leaders of Louisiana-based companies that use the bank and say failure to reauthorize it would damage their workforce and cut their income. She's released lists of businesses in the state that rely on the bank.
Her campaign, meanwhile, notes that Cassidy once supported the bank, voting for its reauthorization in 2012 without raising any concerns and holding a small business export conference in 2011 with representatives of the bank.
"Congressman Cassidy had no issue supporting the Export-Import Bank, but now that he's running for higher office, he has decided the interests of Washington politicians are more important than those of Louisiana's working families," Fabien Levy, spokesman for the Landrieu campaign, said in a statement.
Cassidy suggested the Export-Import Bank assistance was skewed.
He said small businesses received less than 3 percent of the financing from the banking agency, while the rest of the money went to 10 large, profitable corporations, including one that paid no federal taxes in a recent year.