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U.S. Export-Import bank backers to spend recess pushing for renewal

By Emily Stephenson and Krista Hughes

WASHINGTON Reuters) - As U.S. lawmakers headed home for the August recess, small-business owners, labor unions and other supporters of the Export-Import bank were preparing to spend the five-week break making their case to re-authorize the endangered lender.

Ex-Im Bank's backers want to make sure that when lawmakers return to their districts and hold town hall meetings, they will hear from constituents about businesses that depend on the bank.

Ex-Im, which provides loans and other forms of credit to help U.S. businesses sell products overseas, will be forced to close if Congress does not renew its charter by Sept. 30, a deadline that comes only a few weeks after lawmakers return to Washington.

In the past, renewal of Ex-Im's charter has been easy. This year, Tea Party lawmakers in the House of Representatives are leading a drive to shut down the bank, arguing that its lending amounts to government meddling in the private sector in an effort to pick winners and losers. Supporters say closing the bank would hurt U.S. exporters and cost American jobs.

"I think it's safe to say that members of Congress are going to hear very loudly and clearly from their constituents," said Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).

NAM and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are planning ads touting the bank. They are also encouraging members to attend town halls or parades and meet with their representatives.

Chip Sheller of the Aerospace Industries Association said his group has run ads in Washington publications and will host events at members' facilities during the August break.

"If you are not for the Ex-Im Bank, then you're not pro-business," Sheller said.

U.S. senators have a proposal to give the bank five more years. In the House of Representatives, Stephen Fincher, a Tennessee Republican, is working on a proposal to renew the bank with reforms. But it is unclear if conservative lawmakers would sign off on that approach.

Some Capitol Hill aides and lawmakers believe Congress could approve a short-term reauthorization and put off the broader fight about Ex-Im's fate until after the November congressional elections.

Some Democrats want to make Ex-Im's reauthorization an election issue. President Barack Obama highlighted Ex-Im at a news conference on Friday, citing Republican opposition to Ex-Im as he accused the party of intransigence.

"We will lose business. And we'll lose jobs if we don't pass it,” he said, referring to legislation that would renew Ex-Im.

Senators Mark Warner of Virginia and Kay Hagan of North Carolina have held events with local exporters and touted the bank's support for middle-class jobs.

Jenny Fulton, founder of Miss Jenny's Pickles in Kernersville, North Carolina, said she is looking for town hall events where she can tell Representative Virginia Foxx that her bank will not provide credit insurance for overseas sales.

"I would drop everything and be there," Fulton said.

(Additional reporting by Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Caren Bohan, Bernard Orr)

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