THE Export-Import Bank, an obscure federal agency vital to Boeing and other Pacific Northwest exporters, is under fire in Washington, D.C., for the most baffling of reasons. Washington’s congressional delegation, Republicans and Democrats alike, should make a strong declaration of support as the bank faces a do-or-die reauthorization Oct. 1.
The institution has done much practical good over the last 80 years, offering loans, loan guarantees and credit insurance to foreign purchasers of U.S. exports — worth $27 billion last year. It doesn’t cost taxpayers a dime; indeed it returns a surplus to the U.S. Treasury.
The Ex-Im Bank is of particular importance in this state, where about 40 percent of jobs are linked to international trade. Since 2007, Ex-Im has supported $110 billion in Washington exports, mostly Boeing aircraft — more than a quarter of its total business last year. Yet, 90 percent of Ex-Im transactions support firms typically too small for commercial banks.
Right now, Ex-Im Bank faces its strongest-ever opposition, apparently as a matter of political theory. Though the argument comes from Republicans, it can’t be called conservative, as there are many conservatives who understand the importance of exports to U.S. manufacturers.
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But Texas Republican U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, warns darkly of “crony capitalism,” saying the bank serves mainly big, well-connected U.S. businesses, and claims it distorts the free market. If the Ex-Im Bank made sense, he says, commercial banks would offer the same services. Delta Air Lines has jumped into the fray: Ex-Im Bank loans to buy aircraft have gone to airlines that compete with Delta internationally.
Pragmatism should rule. America’s biggest competitors in the world market offer similar government export credit programs — 59 countries in all. Many programs are larger. Even Delta uses them in foreign purchases. All Washington lawmakers voted for the bank in 2012.
With billions at stake, this state’s congressional Republicans, especially, now need to lead on the issue.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).