WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican critics of the U.S. Export-Import Bank moved on Friday to force the export lender to reveal full details of board discussions about potential deals, restarting a battle over the bank's long-term future.
Darrell Issa, chairman of the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee, issued a subpoena for unedited transcripts of meetings of Ex-Im Bank's board of directors and audit committee, saying the bank had stonewalled Congress for months.
The move is the first salvo from Ex-Im opponents since Congress adjourned for an election recess in September. Just before the break, lawmakers approved a nine-month extension for the export credit agency, a compromise that pleased neither supporters wanting certainty nor opponents wanting to shut the bank down.
Ex-Im Bank, which provides loans to foreign buyers of U.S. goods and support to U.S. exporters, has been targeted by conservatives who want to limit the role of government in the private sector and say the bank unfairly picks winners and losers, including by helping foreign competitors of U.S. firms focused on domestic rather than export markets.
The bank's charter now runs through June 2015, when it must be renewed again or face closure.
In a letter, Issa and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, along with two other key Republicans, said Ex-Im had blocked Congress's obligation to oversee its activities by refusing to make certain employees available for transcribed interviews and providing only edited transcripts.
"The bank redacted virtually every discussion among directors and staff exploring why the Bank could lawfully participate in specific financing transactions," the letter said.
"As a result, Financial Services Committee staff has been unable to assess, for example, the reasonableness of determinations made by the Bank that it could participate in a transaction because adequate financing was unavailable in the private market ... even though such analyses speak directly to the question of the Bank’s utility and therefore whether Congress should reauthorize it."
The subpoena covers documents since 2012. Lawmakers said they were prepared to issue other subpoenas as well.
Supporters of the bank, whose services benefit large firms such as Boeing Co and Caterpillar Inc as well as small businesses, are preparing to lobby for a long-term extension of the bank's mandate once Congress resumes next week.
An Ex-Im spokesman said the bank had received 20 requests for information from the two committees since July and had provided "tens of thousands" of documents.
"The Bank takes both committees oversight responsibilities seriously and will continue to work in good faith to respond to the committees’ requests,” Brad Carroll said.
In a letter to the Financial Services panel in August, Ex-Im Chairman Fred Hochberg said "limited redaction" of some documents protected confidential information provided by companies or candid exchanges of views by board members and warned full disclosure could harm the companies involved.
(Reporting by Krista Hughes; Editing by Alden Bentley and Lisa Shumaker)