In Our View: Washington Jobs Imperiled

If Congress fails to renew Export-Import Bank, thousands could be out of work

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The federal government’s Export-Import Bank might soon fall victim to ideology at the expense of common sense, and Washington businesses would be among the primary victims.

“In a nutshell, this really is about manufacturing and America’s desire to keep America competitive with manufacturing jobs,” Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., explained Monday during a visit to Vancouver. “If we want our economy to grow at home, we have to chase those international opportunities.”

The Ex-Im Bank, which was created in 1934, functions as a credit agency that helps overseas entities finance the purchase of U.S. goods. Its biggest beneficiary is Boeing, a fact that directly impacts the Washington economy. But, despite what critics of the bank say, the benefits are not limited to humongous corporations; Mike Bomar, president of the Columbia Region Economic Development Council, cited eight companies and $81 million in exports by Southwest Washington companies using Ex-Im services.

And yet the bank is under fire from Tea Party adherents and other conservatives in Washington, D.C. The bank’s charter is set to expire Sept. 30, meaning that without reauthorization it will stop providing new services on Oct. 1. Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., then the House majority leader, was a big supporter of the Ex-Im Bank’s renewal in 2012, and his loss last month in a primary election has emboldened the bank’s critics.

There are, indeed, valid reasons for examining the Export-Import Bank and the way in which it functions. Critics argue that it chooses winners and losers by supporting a select number of American companies, and there have been recent reports of several bank officials being fired for accepting gifts and kickbacks.

From an ideological standpoint, the arguments rest with what critics say is “corporate welfare” and the role of government in supporting private business. But those critiques ignore the modern realities of big business and the nature of competition in a global marketplace.

The fact is that about 60 developed countries have a governmental agency similar to the Export-Import Bank, and American companies are competing against manufacturers in those countries. As White House spokesman Josh Earnest notes, the bank “helps American companies create and support jobs here at home at no cost to taxpayers.” Last year, the Export-Import Bank returned $1 billion to the federal Treasury.

Among the roadblocks to the bank’s reauthorization is Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., the highest-ranking member of the state’s congressional delegation. While all other members of the state’s delegation have come out in support of the bank, the Eastern Washington representative has been noncommittal other than to say that the bank is in need of reform.

That might be true, and it should be considered. But in the process, McMorris Rodgers is biting the hand that feeds her constituents. Washington’s economy is heavily dependent upon international trade, and the bank’s demise would hamper that economy. Cantwell said: “This is so important because 85,000 Washington state jobs hang in the balance. That is how many jobs have been supported here in the state by the Export-Import Bank.”

The fight over the Export-Import Bank apparently will come down to a battle between the warring factions of the Republican Party. But the people of Washington are caught in the crossfire.