The Export-Import Bank must institute serious reforms to protect taxpayers before Congress reauthorizes it this year, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said Tuesday.
The bank, which provides funds for the purchase of American goods by foreign buyers, is important for thousands of jobs in trade-dependent Washington, she said. But she wants to be sure the taxpayers are protected.
“I know some have suggested this is corporate welfare,” the Eastern Washington Republican told The Spokesman-Review. “I’m asking myself that very question.”
But Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said the bank is an important tool for businesses of all sizes that are looking for overseas markets. It provides financing for some deals and extra security for other foreign transactions, she said.
“It has worked effectively for years,” Cantwell said.
Ex-Im, as it is sometimes called, has become a bone of contention for House Republicans. Its reauthorization is strongly supported by some major corporations, including the Boeing Co. and business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Association of Washington Business. But it is opposed by some limited-government conservatives and tea party supporters.
The bank was created in the 1930s and was regularly reauthorized since then, often without controversy. That changed in 2012, when some House conservatives fought reauthorization as its charter was close to expiring.
Cantwell said Ex-Im supporters have been hearing rumblings of a similar fight this year because a key House committee chairman is opposed to the bank. On Saturday she, Sen. Patty Murray and Gov. Jay Inslee were in Spokane to talk up the importance of the Ex-Im at SCAFCO Grain Systems, which makes grain silos that are sold worldwide, and to 14 other companies in Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District that use Ex-Im for their sales.
On Sunday, newly elected House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he favored allowing the bank to close when its charter expires in September.
“I was in shock,” Cantwell said.
On Tuesday, Speaker John Boehner said he wouldn’t take a position on reauthorizing the bank and McMorris Rodgers, the fourth-ranking House Republican, said her support would be conditioned on reforms. She, Boehner and McCarthy all voted to reauthorize the bank two years ago.
That support came with the understanding that significant reforms in transparency and accountability would take place, McMorris Rodgers said, and she’s not convinced that has happened. The bank also should ensure that loans aren’t concentrated in a few sectors of the economy and that money is available to a broad spectrum of businesses, she said.
Cantwell countered that the reforms requested in 2012 were made. To critics of the Ex-Im who say Boeing gets too big a share of the capital, she says the reason is simple: Planes are expensive.
“I’m not going to apologize that we have an expensive product,” she said.
McMorris Rodgers said a working group of House Republicans is studying the Ex-Im and is expected to make some recommendations later this summer. Any reauthorization “needs to be paired with serious reforms,” she said.
Washington’s other Republican representatives signed a letter this week to Boehner and McCarthy urging the reauthorization of the Ex-Im. McMorris Rodgers didn’t sign it, but that’s not unusual, she said – she typically doesn’t sign letters to leadership because she’s in leadership.