Export-Import Bank Debate: 'Retreat From Sanity' Or End of Corporate Welfare?
About 55 miles east of Capitol Hill, one small business — International Green Structures — is trying to stretch beyond its base in Stevensville, Md., to go global.
IGS, which has about 50 factory workers, makes fiberboard out of compressed wheat. The panels, used to build durable housing, are both "green" and red-white-and-blue-American-made.
But IGS lost a $5-million project in Nigeria because it couldn't get financing from this country's now-lapsed Export-Import Bank, according to Marjorie Cota, the company's chief marketing officer.
"It's pretty frustrating when a small business is not getting the support we need to expand," Cota said.
IGS is one of the examples that Export-Import Bank supporters are highlighting this week as they argue that Congress should renew the bank that had been operating since the Great Depression.
Because the bank's charter expired on June 30, it exists now only to wind down past transactions. Since July 1, both the Senate and House have voted overwhelmingly in favor of reviving the Ex-Im Bank, which normally does enough business to return money to the Treasury each year. The White House firmly backs its reauthorization.
But still, the bank charter remains lapsed, and Cota continues to wonder why Congress doesn't act. "We would have expanded for sure" with the bank's financing, she said.
Here's the problem: In the Senate, a measure reviving the bank passed 64-29 in July, but was attached to a long-term highway bill.
This week, the House voted 313-118 in favor of the bank, but the legislation was not part of a highway bill.
So the two chambers have to get on the same page — either by having the Senate pass a stand-alone bill, or the House pass a highway bill with the bank charter attached.
You might be thinking: How hard can that be?
Pretty hard when key Republican lawmakers, such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, oppose it. They are among the conservatives who want government to play a smaller role in American life. Hensarling refers to Ex-Im's efforts as "corporate welfare," and says the bank primarily helps large corporations, such as Boeing and General Electric.
But most Republicans and business leaders support the bank, including John Engler, the former Republican governor of Michigan and now head of the Business Roundtable. He refers to the expiration of the bank charter as "a retreat from sanity."
And he points to GE's recent announcement that it would shift hundreds of jobs abroad because of the bank's inability to help finance international deals. Many smaller exporters count on the bank's lines of credit to help them keep up their cash flow while awaiting overseas payments, and to get export insurance.
"There were deals lost — and those won't come back" because of the bank's lapsed operations, Engler said. "There were people who got knocked out (of contracts) even in the short timeframe" since June 30.
Engler said he is optimistic that Congress ultimately will renew the bank's charter. The bank's staffers are still processing old loans, so they can ramp back up to make new loans if lawmakers act, he said. "It's not as if they've rolled up the sidewalks," he said.
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