Does the US really need the Export-Import Bank?

Big fight over the big bank
The Ex-Im Bank fight
Ex-Im Bank essential for our businesses: Penny Pritzker

The House of Representatives announced plans on Tuesday to delay voting on a new highway bill, and along with it has stalled the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank.

That means backers of the Ex-Im Bank, such as President Barack Obama and U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, may well have to wait until September for an answer on the bank's revival.

But opponents of the bank, such as the Cato Institute's Dan Ikenson, claim trade is not as simple as "an us-versus-them proposition."

"Politicians in the business community like to talk about Ex-Im as if it were a costless magic wand that helps to underwrite U.S. exports," he said on CNBC's "Power Lunch" in an interview. "It actually underwrites 1.4 percent of U.S. exports; it's really not necessary."

But advocates such as Pritzker contend that failing to revive the bank, idle since July 1, will undoubtedly have a negative impact on American businesses and deny them a tool that keeps them competitive around the world.

Read More American businesses need the Export-Import Bank

"The Export-Import Bank is not about subsidized loans," Pritzker said on "Power Lunch." "It's about enabling American companies to be able to sell their goods and services outside the United States."

Pritzker emphasized that 90 percent of Ex-Im loans go toward supporting small and medium-size businesses, but she admitted that a significant percentage of dollar volume goes to larger companies like Boeing.

Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

But she said focusing on the latter "ignores the fact they have a supply chain of thousands of small businesses, whether it's GE that has something like 2,500 major suppliers or Boeing that has 15,000 small and medium suppliers."

Read More Battle lines drawn over Export-Import Bank renewal

And while Pritzker highlighted the 11.7 million workers benefiting from Ex-Im Bank subsidies, Ikenson took fault with arguments in favor of having American subsidies keep pace with those offered by other countries.

"The idea that we need to keep subsidizing because China does belies the fact that we had our Ex-Im Bank in 1934," he said. "China wasn't even in existence until 1949."