If President Donald Trump truly meant what he said in April about the value of the Export-Import Bank, he will find a nominee who unequivocally supports the mission.
The current choice, Scott Garrett, is not that person.
As a candidate, Trump bashed the bank, which provides loans and guarantees so foreign buyers can quickly get American products. Conventional banks often shy away from loans to foreign entities.
But with Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg as his tutor, Trump learned more about the bank and came out in support, telling the Wall Street Journal in April, “It’s a very good thing, and it actually makes money. You know, it actually could make a lot of money.”
It could, if allowed to resume business unfettered, but three years ago tea party Republicans targeted the bank as an example of “crony capitalism” and “corporate welfare,” even though it’s never contributed a dime to the national deficit. In fact, it’s been a revenue generator.
One of the most outspoken critics was then-Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J. He lost his seat in 2016, but was nominated by Trump to run the Ex-Im Bank. The previous chairman called it “an odd choice,” given Garrett’s wish for the bank’s demise.
Garrett has softened his stance as he hunts for the votes needed for Senate confirmation. Now he says he wants to bring unspecified reforms. The frustrating aspect of this debate is that the changes sought are never spelled out.
Garrett recently met with nine Democratic senators, including Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell. The senators called the session “bizarre,” because Garrett refused to discuss his views on the bank. One would think that would be the whole point of the meeting.
Though bank supporters won the 2015 battle for reauthorization, Senate opponents have hobbled the institution by blocking nominations to the bank’s board. Without a quorum, the bank is limited to loans of $10 billion or less.
As a result, the bank authorized a mere $5 billion in financing last year, the lowest amount in 40 years. Meanwhile, some $30 billion to $40 billion in business is bogged down. This puts U.S. businesses as a tremendous disadvantage, as Jay Timmons of the National Association of Manufacturers pointed out recently in a Wall Street Journal op-ed:
“At least 85 foreign-government-backed export credit agencies are working aggressively to support their own domestic industries, pulverizing manufacturers in America,” Timmons wrote.
Support for the bank in trade-dependent Washington is a no-brainer. The Business Roundtable and the Association of Washington Business are among the business groups critical of the Garrett nomination. In an op-ed for the Seattle Times, AWB President Kris Johnson noted the importance of the bank, writing: “Since 2012, Washington state’s economy has benefited greatly. In total, 174 companies utilized the bank’s services, representing $78 billion in export value to the state.”
If Trump truly wants to put America first, he will find someone who fully supports the bank’s mission.