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U.S. Senate Democrats hold rescue talks on Ex-Im Bank

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Democrats said they were working to rescue the U.S. Export-Import Bank on Tuesday, insisting it would save American jobs.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, scheduled meetings with other lawmakers. The 80-year-old bank will be forced to close unless Congress acts to renew its charter by Sept. 30.

Ex-Im offers financing to foreign buyers of U.S. goods. Its supporters say it also helps thousands of small U.S. businesses with trade credit insurance or loan guarantees.

Neither the U.S. House of Representatives nor the Senate has acted, and an August recess looms. Many Republican conservatives in both chambers decry the bank as "corporate welfare," a government effort to pick winners and losers in the private sector, and want it to expire.

In 2013 the bank's loans were behind $37.4 billion of exports and 205,000 U.S. jobs, benefiting the likes of aerospace giant Boeing and heavy equipment manufacturers such as General Electric and Caterpillar.

Boeing, which accounted for an estimated one-third of Ex-Im's commitments between 2007 and 2013, could find financing in private markets, bank critics say.

Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from coal-producing West Virginia, met Reid and other Senate Democratic leaders to discuss Manchin's proposal to reauthorize the bank for five years while including a provision expanding the number of countries where Ex-Im can finance coal-fired power plants.

Manchin said afterwards that no decisions were made about when and how to proceed with legislation on the bank. "We're still talking, trying to work something out together," he said as he left Reid's office. "Ex-Im Bank is very important to all of us and we're just trying to move it forward."

Manchin's provision would overturn restrictions put in place by the Obama administration limiting the bank's financing for coal-fired plants to buyers in only the world's poorest countries.

Manchin has gathered several Republican co-sponsors for his proposal, but some Democratic supporters of the bank, including Senator Maria Cantwell, don't like the idea of including the coal provision.

Aides to Democrats in Congress have said that if the Senate doesn't take up a bill to reauthorize the bank, a fallback plan would be attaching Ex-Im reauthorization to a must-pass piece of legislation, such as a resolution expected to keep the government running beyond September.

Bank supporters say it would be wrong to dismantle the export financing agency when many other countries already do more to support their exports than the United States does.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Howard Goller)

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