U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, the latest Texas Republican to come out against the U.S. Export-Import Bank, did not shy away from his new position Wednesday as he spoke to business groups fighting to keep the 81-year-old federal agency alive.
"Ex-Im must die in its current form," Flores, R-Waco, declared at a downtown Austin luncheon hosted by the Texas Association of Business and the Texas Association of Manufacturers.
The bank, which aims to help American companies do business abroad, has landed in the crosshairs of some Republicans who view it as a form of corporate welfare, or the government picking winners and losers. Flores, who chairs the Republican Study Committee, officially added his voice to the chorus last week, penning an op-ed with U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, that criticized the bank as the "modern day 'Enron' of the federal government."
Business groups have blasted bank opponents as playing politics with U.S. jobs. In a statement the day Flores' op-ed was published, TAB and TAM said the actions of Ex-Im opponents will "deliberately harm Texas."
But Flores made clear at the luncheon that his position is non-negotiable, the result of more than two-thirds of his panel's steering committee voicing its support for ending the bank.
"First of all, I apologize to those of you I offended for coming out against the Ex-Im Bank," Flores said, somewhat facetiously. "I'm not changing my mind on it, but I just wanted to let you know I apologize for that."
He said he nonetheless has plenty to offer to business leaders disappointed with his Ex-Im opposition.
"What I would propose to give to the business community in exchange for that are the following: tax reform, regulatory reform, litigation reform, health care reform, immigration reform, pre-Trade Promotion Authority," Flores said. The last item refers to another debate splitting Republicans in Congress: whether they should give President Obama the power to negotiate future trade agreements to pave the way for a massive deal with 11 other countries.
Flores is the most recent Texas Republican to announce his opposition to the bank ahead of a June 30 deadline for Congress to reauthorize its charter. Another GOP lawmaker from Texas, U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, is leading the charge against the agency as the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. And former Gov. Rick Perry recently reversed his longtime support for the bank ahead of a likely 2016 presidential campaign.
Despite his opposition to the agency, Flores predicted Wednesday that it would ultimately be "extended on a short-term basis, maybe with some reforms, maybe not." U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., is pushing a bill that aims to address the concerns of bank critics by implementing more checks against corruption, among other proposals.
Bill Hammond, the CEO of the Texas Association of Business, who moderated the discussion, seemed to express hope Flores would get on board with the reform push. But as their conversation ended, Hammond acknowledged they would have to agree to disagree.
"With one tiny little exception," Hammond told Flores, "we really appreciate all your efforts."
Disclosure: The Texas Association of Business has been a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.