Trump’s about-face on Ex-Im Bank con­founds con­ser­va­tives

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

Pres­i­dent Trump’s em­brace of the Ex­port-Im­port Bank is a ma­jor blow to con­ser­va­tives, who had been on the verge of nix­ing what they — and Mr. Trump, un­til now — called a sop to wealthy cor­po­ra­tions.

Dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign, Mr. Trump dis­missed the ob­scure lend­ing agency as “feath­erbed­ding” for politi­cians and huge com­pa­nies that don’t need it, en­thus­ing op­po­nents who had squeezed its lend­ing pow­ers and said it should die off.

But the pres­i­dent now says he is con­vinced that the cor­po­rate wel­fare pro­duces jobs — an about-face that irked con­ser­va­tives who have been fight­ing for years to end the loan pro­gram.

“Un­less the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has re­forms that can get Ex-Im out of the busi­ness of pick­ing win­ners and losers with tax­payer dol­lars, then it will be dif­fi­cult to see any up­side in this,” said Doug Sachtleben, a spokesman for the Club for Growth, a con­ser­va­tive group that urged Congress to let the bank ex­pire.

Law­mak­ers came close in 2015, when the bank’s char­ter ex­pired, but a coali­tion of lib­er­als and cen­trists ral­lied to re­vive it. Still, con­ser­va­tives have blocked nom­i­nees to the board, deny­ing it the quo­rum needed to ap­prove any deals ex­ceed­ing $10 mil­lion, hop­ing to hob­ble the bank for now ahead of a fi­nal death blow when the char­ter ex­pires again in 2019.

Mr. Trump, though, said this week that he now thinks the bank is a good idea.

“It turns out that, first of all, lots of small com­pa­nies are re­ally helped, the ven­dor com­pa­nies,” Mr. Trump told The Wall Street Jour­nal. “But also, maybe more im­por­tant, other coun­tries give [as­sis­tance]. When other coun­tries give it, we lose a tremen­dous amount of busi­ness.”

The pres­i­dent said he would nom­i­nate peo­ple to fill the va­cant seats on its board, plac­ing pres­sure on sen­a­tors to con­firm his picks so the bank can be­gin clear­ing a back­log of 40 board-level trans­ac­tions worth $30 bil­lion.

As it stands, only two of the five seats on the board are filled, af­ter Se­nate Bank­ing Com­mit­tee Chair­man Richard C. Shelby blocked Pres­i­dent Obama’s picks from re­ceiv­ing a vote. Sen. Mike Crapo, Idaho Repub­li­can and the panel’s new chair­man, hasn’t said whether he in­tends to act on po­ten­tial nom­i­nees.

“We’re not com­ment­ing on Ex-Im at this time,” Bank­ing Com­mit­tee spokes­woman Amanda Critch­field said Thurs­day.

A prod­uct of the New Deal, the bank pri­mar­ily pro­vides fi­nanc­ing for U.S. com­pa­nies look­ing to sell their goods over­seas when pri­vate fund­ing is not avail­able.

Es­tab­lish­ment play­ers like the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce cheered Mr. Trump’s change of heart, and vo­cal Repub­li­cans said it was a “huge” turn of events for man­u­fac­tur­ers and work­ers back home.

“The Ex-Im Bank makes money for the Amer­i­can tax­payer and al­lows Amer­i­can man­u­fac­tur­ers to com­pete for busi­ness in the de­vel­op­ing world on a level play­ing field. Well done, Mr. Pres­i­dent,” said Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, South Carolina Repub­li­can.

Mr. Gra­ham had pre­dicted Mr. Trump’s about-face since last year, when as pres­i­dent-elect he in­ter­vened to save hun­dreds of man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs at the Car­rier air con­di­tion­ing plant in In­di­ana.

The bank said it sends any sur­plus from the in­ter­est and fees it as­sesses back to the Trea­sury, re­sult­ing in a $5.6 bil­lion profit for tax­pay­ers since fis­cal 2007.

That ap­peared to help sway the pres­i­dent.

“In­stinc­tively, you would say, ‘Isn’t that a ridicu­lous thing,’” Mr. Trump said of the bank’s lend­ing model in the Jour­nal in­ter­view. “But ac­tu­ally, it’s a very good thing. And it ac­tu­ally makes money, it could make a lot of money.”

Yet con­ser­va­tive pres­sure groups said they won’t let Ex-Im roar back to life with­out a fight.

“Rather than pur­su­ing poli­cies that sub­si­dize for­eign com­pa­nies and gov­ern­ments,” Her­itage Ac­tion spokesman Dan Holler said, “law­mak­ers should be ad­vanc­ing poli­cies that truly make Amer­ica great again.”

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Trump now is con­vinced that the Ex­port-Im­port Bank’s cor­po­rate wel­fare pro­duces jobs. He said he would nom­i­nate peo­ple to fill its va­cant board seats.

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