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Last week, Senator Mike Lee and Representative Justin Amash proposed legislation that would repeal the Export-Import Bank in its entirety. As Senator Lee stated, “The Ex-Im Bank has outlived its usefulness … It’s time to end the Bank’s market distortion and political cronyism.” This is a smart observation from the Utah Senator – one that many of his colleagues and predecessors have pointed out as well. The Ex-Im Bank is a bastion of crony capitalism, corporate welfare and political favoritism. It risks billions in taxpayer-backed funds for the benefit of just a handful of politically-favored companies – perverting the idea of honest competition while damaging American industry and destroying jobs. It is high time that this vestige of left-wing economics be dismantled entirely.
There are myriad examples of the Ex-Im Bank’s largesse, its penchant for poorly thought-through investments, and its knack for subsidizing foreign competitors at the expense of American employers. Solyndra offers one potent example; where a floundering green energy company received millions in taxpayer-backed funds thanks to its political connections. Amonix and Abound Solar are similar, albeit less well-known variations on the theme. The common thread: millions of dollars are doled out to companies on the ropes as a result of the Ex-Im Bank’s structural incompetence or complete recklessness.
But incompetence or recklessness is not the whole story. All too often, outright favoritism can be blamed for the Ex-Im Bank’s dubious investment strategy. In this regard, there is no better illustration than the Bank’s relationship with Boeing.
Boeing is the single greatest net recipient of financial support from the Ex-Im Bank. In fact, the airline manufacturer receives more funding from the Export-Import Bank than all other recipients combined. It’s a repetitive plot with many of the same actors appearing time and again. It follows as such: a foreign airline can’t afford to buy new planes; in many cases private lenders want nothing to do with certain carriers some of whom have declared bankruptcy and are bankrolled by foreign governments; the Ex-Im Bank steps in; they offer loans guaranteed by U.S. taxpayers at below-market rates with favorable terms American companies cannot receive with the provision that the funds can only be used to purchase Boeing planes; the foreign company then purchases new Boeing planes at a discount; as a result U.S.-based airlines without the matching funds or favorable terms are forced to suffer from a competitive disadvantage. For proof, one need only look at last year’s Bank budget. In FY2012, 82 percent of the bank’s loan guarantees went to Boeing – a total of $12.2 billion dollars. It is estimated that the Ex-Im Bank costs the U.S. airline industry an estimated $684 million and up to 7,500 jobs.
How does a government organization get away with being so closely intertwined financially with one of the biggest, most successful companies in the country? Simple: Washington cronyism. Outside of Boeing’s enormous lobbying effort, the company has personal relationships with several members of Ex-Im Bank’s investment board, not to mention close relationships with the Obama Administration. It’s an inevitable, yet contemptuous outcome. Despite having revenue approaching $82 billion per year, Boeing still stands at the front of the line when its times to receive government handouts.
Taking all of this into account, the U.S. Congress is now pressing the Bank to embrace reforms that it laid out nearly a year ago. With the intention of forcing transparency and accountability into their lending practices, Congress demanded that the organization adopt a new set of economic impact procedures to evaluate the costs and benefits of each loan. Additionally, the Bank was advised to reduce or eliminate support for wide-body aircraft. These are just a few of the reforms within the legislation.
So far, “Boeing’s Bank” has yet to abide by a single reform. It has ignored Congress’ demands for transparency and continued funding foreign airlines. If anything, the Bank has become even more irresponsible with its money.
Senator Lee and Representative Amash’s legislation is thus a logical next step. The Export-Import Bank cannot reform itself and threatens American jobs while serving as an affront to the free market. Any true believer in honest competition and a thriving private sector would agree that the Export-Import Bank must be ended.
Stephen DeMaura is president of Americans for Job Security.