The economic health of Washington and the rest of the country got a major boost last week when the U.S. Senate restored the Export-Import Bank of the United States to full operations. Now lawmakers need to finish their work by extending the bank’s charter another four years.
For more than 1,400 days, the Ex-Im Bank has been three members short of a quorum, preventing it from financing any deal over $10 million. Almost $40 billion worth of deals have been stymied, holding up an estimated 230,000 jobs. Washington was hard hit as the number of jobs supported by the bank plummeted from 39,000 in fiscal 2014 to only 650 in fiscal 2018.
On Wednesday, a bipartisan group in the Senate finally fixed that by confirming Kimberly Reed as president of the bank along with two other members. Washington’s Sen. Maria Cantwell was among those demanding action.
The bank was created during the Great Depression and plays a vital role in facilitating the export of U.S. goods and services, which in turn creates jobs here. For example, it provides loan guarantees and credit insurance to American companies as well as loans to international buyers of American goods. The bank is an independent, self-financing federal agency that costs taxpayers nothing.
The bank’s services are especially important for Washington, where international trade is a cornerstone of the economy. In the past five years, the bank’s guarantees have helped 128 Washington exporters. The beneficiaries include 99 small businesses, eight minority-owned businesses and 10 women-owned businesses.
Other countries have their own versions of export-import banks. While America’s was shut down, businesses in those nations had a competitive advantage.
Critics, including the most conservative wing of the Republican Party, decry the bank as a provider of corporate welfare. That’s shortsighted. Some of Ex-Im’s clients are giants like Boeing, but the bank fills an important gap in helping foreign buyers gain financing that private-sector lenders either will not or cannot extend.
The bank’s restoration could be short-lived, though. Its charter is scheduled to expire in September.
Cantwell had unexpected allies in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Donald Trump, both of whom supported this week’s quorum-restoring vote. She will need their help again. If Trump and Republicans want to boost the economy, they’ll reach across the aisle again to renew the charter for years to come.