Ahead of Likely 2016 Run, Perry Reverses Position on Export-Import Bank

Former Gov. Rick Perry announced late Tuesday he no longer supports the Export-Import Bank, reversing his position on an issue that has become a litmus test for Republican presidential candidates.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks at the Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines on Jan. 24, 2015.
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks at the Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines on Jan. 24, 2015.  Rebecca Miller

*Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

Former Gov. Rick Perry announced late Tuesday that he no longer supports the Export-Import Bank, reversing his position on an issue that has become a litmus test for Republican presidential candidates. 

In an op-ed published by The Wall Street Journal, Perry said he "can't get on board" with reauthorizing the charter for the 80-year-old bank, a relatively little-known federal agency that helps U.S. companies sell their products abroad. Recently, though, it has become the target of conservative groups concerned with so-called corporate welfare, or the government picking winners and losers.

The bank will shutter if Congress does not reauthorize it by June 30. U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, the Texas Republican who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, is leading the fight against the bank.

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Explaining his newfound position, Perry said he has been "deeply disturbed by recent revelations of bribery and corruption at the institution," citing a former loan officer who recently pleaded guilty to taking bribes from people tied to bank business. He also argued the continued existence of the bank undermines the United States' "moral credibility" to pursue economic reforms, including cutting corporate taxes and reducing the regulatory burden on businesses.

"We can’t let Ex-Im get in the way of reforms that would expand opportunity for all Americans," Perry wrote.

The former governor made no bones about his past support for the bank, acknowledging he wrote a letter to Congress less than a year ago pushing for reauthorization. The letter said failing to reauthorize the bank "could place Texas and many U.S. companies at a serious competitive disadvantage in the global marketplace."

"As governor, I feared that because global competitors use institutions similar to the Ex-Im Bank to help their companies export goods to us, shutting down the Ex-Im Bank would mean unilaterally disarming in a fight that Europe and China intend to win," Perry wrote.

The debate over the bank has caught GOP White House hopefuls between traditional business interests and a web of influential groups allied with the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. The groups have vowed to be a factor in the 2016 race that Perry is expected to enter within the next few weeks. 

One of the organizations, Freedom Partners, was quick to promote Perry's op-ed as it hits newsstands early Wednesday. In a statement, a spokesman for the group used Perry's shift to put pressure on another Texas Republican, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. He voted against reauthorization in 2012.

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"We applaud Governor Rick Perry for joining the growing number of principled leaders who have been standing strong for American taxpayers and against the corporate welfare that the Ex-Im Bank represents," James Davis, the spokesman, said in a statement. "We're hopeful that Senator John Cornyn will reaffirm his opposition by standing with former Governor Perry, Senator Ted Cruz, and Chairman Jeb Hensarling, not with Hillary Clinton and the corporate special interests pushing for the bank's reauthorization."

Most of the GOP field has gone on the record opposing reauthorization of the bank. Until Tuesday, Perry was among a few holdouts including former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, also a potential 2016 candidate.  

Business groups have waged their own campaign on the issue. Last month, the Texas Association of Business sent a letter to Congress in support of reauthorization signed by more than 500 businesses in the state. 

Hours after Perry’s op-ed was published, the National Association of Manufacturers indirectly pushed back, saying opponents of the bank are “willing to cede manufacturing jobs in America to foreign competitors.” 

“When it comes to the livelihoods of Americans, political posturing is simply irresponsible,” Jay Timmons, the president and CEO of the association, said in a statement. “The Ex-Im debate comes down to this: if the Bank is not reauthorized, people are going to lose their jobs and manufacturers will be hurt.”

Perry's op-ed came two days before the head of the bank, Fred Hochberg, is scheduled to visit the Houston area to make the case for its reauthorization. 

Disclosure: The Texas Association of Business was a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune from 2009 to 2013. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.