BANGOR, Maine — General Electric Co. said Tuesday that work supporting 500 American jobs, including 80 in Bangor, could be offshored, citing Congress’ decision to let funding for the U.S. Export-Import Bank lapse earlier this year.
It made for political hay in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, where Democrats criticized U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin and other Republicans for stances against reauthorizing the bank, which has supported more than $290 million in Maine exports since 2007.
On Tuesday, Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett said in a statement that Poliquin’s “political grandstanding has chased good business overseas.”
Poliquin fired back, labeling the bank a hotbed for fraud and “corporate welfare.” He noted in a statement that he had not voted to defund the Export-Import Bank and that he would consider reauthorizing federal funding for the bank “once corruption has been rooted out.”
No Maine jobs have been lost, but GE said 80 jobs making power turbine components at its plant in Bangor could be moved to France because the company no longer has access to funding from the Export-Import Bank, which underwrites loans that help foreign purchasers buy American goods.
Instead, the company said France’s export agency has agreed to provide credit to GE supporting $11 billion in bids for global power projects. In exchange, the company would move gas turbine production to that country.
The Bangor facility, which employs 450, would remain open.
“In a competitive world, we are left with no choice but to invest in non-U.S. manufacturing and move production to countries that support high-tech exporters,” said Tim Rice, GE’s vice chairman, in a statement.
The bank’s authority lapsed in June, held up by congressional Republicans who think it distorts free markets. They’ve been under pressure from Democrats and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to reauthorize it. Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, and a bipartisan majority of U.S. governors wrote a letter advocating for it in April.
In July, MPBN reported that Poliquin is the only member of Maine’s congressional delegation to oppose reauthorization. In June, he wrote a column for The Maine Wire, a conservative news site, criticizing the bank for fraud and mismanagement.
He took heat for that stance: In July, John Kenney, manager of the Bangor GE plant, wrote an OpEd in the Bangor Daily News urging Poliquin to put “special interests and political rhetoric aside” and reauthorize the bank.
But in a Tuesday statement, Poliquin said, “It’s disappointing that a big Wall Street corporation, like GE, would use politically charged language as a cover to shipping jobs overseas,” and that he’d be willing to consider reauthorization if convinced that fraud had been rooted out of the bank.
“We can promote and protect jobs while eliminating fraud,” he said.
U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine, faulted Congress for its inaction on the Export-Import Bank.
“This is exactly why we voted to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank in July,” Collins and King said in a joint statement. “The news today is a significant blow for hardworking Mainers at the Bangor plant. We will continue to urge our colleagues in Congress to renew its charter, so that we can help workers in Maine and around the country compete internationally on a level playing field.”
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, who supported a bill to reauthorize the EXIM bank, said, “There is a direct connection between the loss of this work in Maine and the failure by Congress to reauthorize EXIM.”
GE’s move could make the bank’s authority a central issue in Poliquin’s 2016 re-election bid. In August, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, House Democrats’ campaign arm, aired radio ads criticizing him.
Now, two Democrats, former Orono state senator Emily Cain — who lost to Poliquin last year — and Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci, are set to square off in a primary for their party’s nomination. The 2nd District, which was represented by Democrats for 20 years before Poliquin’s win, has been targeted by both parties as a top national race in 2016.
In a statement, Cain called Poliquin’s actions “shameful because they have devastating consequences for the people he is supposed to fight for” and Baldacci said Poliquin’s “opposition to the Export-Import Bank doesn’t help anyone in the 2nd District.”
“I don’t know how he can think the people of Maine don’t support this,” Baldacci said.