Government Stays Open, Export-Import Bank Remains Hobbled
Right now, there are more than 30 proposals, totaling more than $20 billion, awaiting approval at the Export-Import Bank. As of October 1, they will now have to wait a little longer.
Proponents of the bank had hoped legislation to keep the government open past October 1 would also address the administrative roadblocks that have kept EXIM partially closed since July of 2015. Instead, the bank remains another victim of election year posturing, and the ongoing standoff between President Obama and a Republican-controlled Congress.
With all of the higher-profile issues in our current political climate, a bank that helps finance foreign purchases of U.S. goods for private businesses wouldn’t figure to be as exciting to the average voter as Trump’s tax returns or Hillary’s emails. This is the most publicity that this relatively obscure institution has seen in decades. Thus far, however, neither candidate has made the bank a priority among their promises.
The troubles for EXIM began when the bank’s charter was allowed to expire last year. “This is a small step toward renewing a competitive free-market economy and arresting the rise of the progressive welfare state and the cronyism connected to it,” said House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas.
Corporate lobbies, including the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, supported reauthorizing the bank, as did President Obama.
Perhaps the strangest aspect of the shutdown is how it has driven a wedge between the pro-business GOP, traditionally far more supportive of the private sector, and the businesses and industries it usually strives to protect.
The EXIM Bank has supported trade deals with such corporate titans as Boeing, Caterpillar, and General Electric. But some conservative lawmakers view that assistance as corporate welfare. In the meantime, Democrats find themselves in the unlikely position of helping big business obtain more money, while also complaining about how they don’t pay enough taxes and overpay their CEOs.
Where it Stands
The bank’s charter has been restored, but that is not enough to get the loan approval process back in action. Until Congress acts, the bank cannot review any proposal worth more than $10 million. That requires a quorum of its five-member board of directors, but only two director slots are currently filled. In January, President Obama nominated J. Mark McWatters, but his approval process has advanced at the same rate as that of Obama’s Supreme Court nominee—which is to say, not at all.
Without a third board member, everything stops. And that suits the coalition of conservative groups organized by a group called Freedom Partners just fine. “We continue to urge Majority Leader McConnell, Speaker Ryan, and all fiscal conservatives to stand with taxpayers and reject any attempt to open the floodgates on EXIM Bank corporate welfare,” said the group’s senior policy adviser Andy Koenig.
For now, EXIM will have to wait until the current government funding, just approved, runs out on December 9. That’s when Congress will once again consider another stopgap measure or look at a larger 2017 spending bill, in which EXIM supporters will almost certainly add a provision for its revival. How it will fare may depend on what happens at the ballot box next month.