Nearly six months after being left on life support, the Export-Import Bank of the United States is poised to be reauthorized by Congress.
The House is set to vote Thursday on a bill that includes a provision approving the bank’s charter for five years. The bill, a giant transportation measure that has been agreed on by House and Senate conferees, is considered a shoo-in for passage in both chambers, meaning a kick-start for the bank, known as the Ex-Im, to resume financing U.S. exports to foreign buyers.
It is a welcome comeback for U.S. companies who rely on Ex-Im, while it is a setback for conservative critics who say the bank is an example of what one Texas lawmaker calls “crony capitalism.” The bank has continued operations servicing deals already approved but not been able to do any new financing.
In many ways, it is a Texas story, with players on both sides of the issue. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, led the fight against the bank and would not let a re-authorization bill out of his panel – a tactic that led to the bank’s charter expiring June 30. Efforts to support the bank in the Senate also failed, with both Texas GOP Sens. Ted Cruz, who is running for president, and John Cornyn, voting against Ex-Im.
At the same time, Texas, which is the country’s largest exporting state, had companies such as Olney’s Air Tractor Inc., lobbying fiercely to restart the lending to preserve overseas business – and domestic jobs. Olney is about 100 miles northwest of Fort Worth.
The world in which we live does not foster a level playing field in the global marketplace. Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas
Hensarling is philosophically opposed to the bank, but said Wednesday he knew what to expect after coalition of almost all House Democrats and several dozen Republicans defied GOP leadership and forced a bill to a vote. The result: the House approved an Export-Import Bank reauthorization bill at the end of October.
North Texas Republican lawmakers who voted for the bill: Reps. Kay Granger of Fort Worth, Joe Barton of Ennis, and Pete Sessions of Dallas.
“Given that nearly all Democrats and about half the Republicans support Ex-Im, I didn’t expect to win this round of the fight, but I certainly wasn’t going to back away from it,” Hensarling said in a statement Wednesday. “This was an important debate to have. While it’s no surprise to me that it ended up in the final version of the highway bill, I know if I was the CEO of a Fortune 50 corporation, I would think twice before building my long-term business plan on Ex-Im.”
At Air Tractor, which makes planes for crop dusting and fire fighting, officials say the bank was a lifeline for foreign business and jobs in the employee-owned company.
1,704 The number of Texas exporters that have received Ex-Im bank financing since 2007
“We were able to survive short-term by extending our own credit, but we would not have been able to to next season,” said David Ickert, Air Tractor’s vice president of finance. “There was some lost business.”
Company officials made at least a dozen lobbying trips to Washington in the past year and spoke to Texas lawmakers about the importance of the financing of their planes – which sell for about $900,000 each – to preserving the jobs of the 250 employees.
The Ex-Im website shows that there have been 1,704 Texas exporters who have received bank financing since 2007.
But much of the attention of the issue fell to Boeing Co. In the face of harsh criticism about being the bank’s single largest customer, Boeing focused its lobbying on being competitive against European rival Airbus and as a job creator.
“This is about being competitive in the world marketplace,” Ray Conner, vice chairman of The Boeing Company and president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said in Everett, Wash., at the delivery of an Qatar Airways jet last month.
According to Boeing, 15,000 suppliers in the U.S. support an estimated 1.5 million jobs.
And it was the jobs argument that ultimately prevailed with lawmakers.