LACONIA, N.H. (AP) — South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham says his Republican colleagues who don't want to reauthorize money for the Export-Import Bank have lost their way as conservatives.
Graham, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, spoke Thursday alongside New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte at a business that has benefited from the federal agency's financing. The Export-Import bank provides financing for U.S. exports. Its charter is set to expire in June, and many Republicans are now calling for the program to end.
Graham, lead sponsor of legislation to reauthorize the program through 2019, said eliminating that financing option would make it difficult for U.S. businesses to compete globally and would cost jobs.
"If you want to defund this bank and allow China and Europe to have an economic advantage over people in the United States, then I think you've lost your way as a conservative," he said. "I want you to come up here and tell these people why they need to lose their jobs because of your ideological purity."
Graham toured New Hampshire Ball Bearings during a two-day New Hampshire swing, his third recent visit to the state that hosts the nation's first presidential primary. He plans to decide by the end of May whether to run for the GOP nomination.
The Export-Import Bank has operated for more than 80 years, but many Republicans now say it is a form of corporate welfare that should end.
Nearly all of Graham's potential presidential primary opponents oppose reauthorizing the bank, including Senate colleagues Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker also oppose continuing the bank.
Graham said the bank directly benefits U.S. businesses such as New Hampshire Ball Bearings and Boeing, which has a base in South Carolina. Eliminating the agency would put these businesses at a competitive disadvantage, as China and many European countries have similar financing programs, Graham said.
"I'm not going to unilaterally surrender as a nation and cost good jobs in my state," he said.
Ayotte will be a sought-after ally for a Republican seeking to perform well in New Hampshire's primary. She has worked closely with Graham in the Senate and called him one of the strongest voices on national security. She has not endorsed any potential candidates.