Ex-Im Bank in limbo await­ing po­lit­i­cal power shift

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump will step into a con­gres­sional civil war over the fate of the Ex­port-Im­port Bank next year, caught between Democrats and Repub­li­can cen­trists who say the head­strong mogul can use the government-char­tered lender to put “Amer­ica first” and con­ser­va­tives who say it is time for the agency to fade into obliv­ion.

A prod­uct of the New Deal, the ob­scure credit agency known as “Ex-Im” pri­mar­ily pro­vides fi­nanc­ing for U.S. com­pa­nies look­ing to sell their goods over­seas when pri­vate fund­ing is not avail­able. Yet the bank has been un­able to ex­tend any sig­nif­i­cant new loans for the past year be­cause a pow­er­ful Se­nate Repub­li­can blocked Pres­i­dent Obama’s nom­i­nees to the agency’s board, deny­ing it the quo­rum needed to make big de­ci­sions.

In the in­terim, Ex-Im has hob­bled along, wait­ing for a fi­nal de­ci­sion on its fate.

Democrats and cen­trist Repub­li­cans in Congress hope to re­vive the bank. They say the

agency still serves a vi­tal need and point to Mr. Trump’s in­ter­ven­tion in a deal last month to save hun­dreds of man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs at a Car­rier air con­di­tion­ing plant in In­di­ana.

“Trump made a big deal about 800 or 900 jobs. That’s good. Good for him. Well, I just want to let the pres­i­dent-elect know that we’re los­ing thou­sands of jobs,” said Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, South Carolina Repub­li­can and vo­cal cham­pion of the bank.

“Not be­cause the Amer­i­can worker is not work­ing hard, but be­cause Amer­i­can man­u­fac­tur­ers can’t com­pete in the de­vel­op­ing world be­cause our com­peti­tors all have ex-im banks,” he said.

Capi­tol Hill con­ser­va­tives — joined by some lib­er­als such as Sen. Bernard San­ders, Ver­mont in­de­pen­dent — have blasted the bank as “cor­po­rate wel­fare,” a prime ex­am­ple of the government try­ing to pick win­ners and losers in the free mar­ket. The Ex-Im Bank should be left to limp along and off­load its obli­ga­tions by 2019, when its cur­rent char­ter will ex­pire.

“We would like to see the sta­tus quo up­held,” said Andy Koenig, vice pres­i­dent of pol­icy at Free­dom Part­ners, a non­profit that is par­tially funded by the con­ser­va­tive Koch broth­ers and op­poses the bank.

As it stands, the bank is se­verely ham­strung by its de­fi­cient board. Without a quo­rum, it can­not ap­prove loans of $10 mil­lion or more.

It still man­aged to au­tho­rize $5 bil­lion in loans to sup­port $8 bil­lion in ex­port sales in the lat­est fis­cal year, yet deals val­ued at more than $30 bil­lion are await­ing ap­proval from a full board.

Near-death ex­pe­ri­ence

The bank sur­vived a near-death ex­pe­ri­ence in 2015 when its char­ter was set to ex­pire and the lib­eral-cen­trist coali­tion man­aged to re­new it.

But the Novem­ber elec­tions left two of the bank’s op­po­nents — House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wis­con­sin Repub­li­can, and Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, Ken­tucky Repub­li­can — in charge of Congress, and Mr. Trump dis­missed the bank on the cam­paign trail as “feath­erbed­ding” for politi­cians and huge com­pa­nies that don’t need the help.

“He es­sen­tially said that he was against it,” Mr. Koenig said. “We’re hope­ful that maybe he stands by that po­si­tion and ei­ther does not nom­i­nate folks, or nom­i­nates folks who are in­clined to re­form [the bank].”

Those nom­i­nees would go through the Se­nate Com­mit­tee on Bank­ing, Hous­ing and Ur­ban Af­fairs. Com­mit­tee Chair­man Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Repub­li­can, re­fused this year to take up Mr. Obama’s board nom­i­nees, J. Mark McWat­ters and Clau­dia Slacik.

Mr. Shelby was cheered and jeered for his one­man block­ade. Ex-Im sup­port­ers said he flouted Congress’ will, and con­ser­va­tives said he stood by his prin­ci­ples.

Sen. Mike Crapo, Idaho Repub­li­can, is poised to take over the gavel of the bank­ing com­mit­tee in the com­ing Congress, though he is not sig­nal­ing how he would pro­ceed on Ex-Im nom­i­nees if Mr. Trump pro­duces them.

“While it is an­tic­i­pated that Sen. Crapo may chair the bank­ing com­mit­tee in the new Congress, he is not dis­cussing po­ten­tial agenda items un­til the new Congress con­venes in Jan­uary,” Crapo spokesman Robert Sum­ner said.

The bank says that as an in­de­pen­dent fed­eral agency, it op­er­ates with the full faith and credit of the U.S. government and can re­main a vi­able en­tity. It would not be able to take on new busi­ness be­yond Sept. 30, 2019, if Congress de­clines to re­new its char­ter.

Ex-Im’s sup­port­ers are spoil­ing for a fight, say­ing the bank’s weak­ened po­si­tion is cost­ing the coun­try jobs and hurt­ing small com­pa­nies that act as sup­pli­ers for larger ben­e­fi­cia­ries.

“We’re go­ing to be suc­cess­ful,” Mr. Gra­ham said. “I don’t know how long it will take us — I hope Trump will help us — but we’re go­ing to be suc­cess­ful.”

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