Commentary: Finish the Job on Export-Import Bank

By Ryan Augsburger, Ohio Manufacturers Association

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ever since the Wright Brothers built the first successful airplanes in Dayton, Ohio has proudly defended our state’s legacy as the “Birthplace of Aviation.” Nearly 120 years later, the industry they created continues to help drive our state’s economy.

But over the past year, dysfunction in Washington has put that industry at risk when some in Congress tried to shut down the U.S. Export-Import Bank. Ex-Im, as it is often called, is a small federal agency that helps American companies export goods by offering financing and insurance to help close deals when no commercial alternative is available.

Over the past several years, Ex-Im has helped hundreds of Ohio manufactures sell more than $2 billion of American-made products abroad.  Since 2011, nearly 7,000 American companies turned to Ex-Im to help them close deals that wouldn’t have happened if Ex-Im didn’t exist.

But a small group, who believe that the government should have no role in helping American firms compete in the world markets, aimed to kill Ex-Im. They made wild claims about the bank hurting taxpayers despite the fact that it doesn’t cost taxpayers one cent to run since companies pay interest and fees for its services. Ex-Im actually takes in more money than it costs to run, which then helps pay down our national deficit.

Those same critics ignored the fact that 90% of the Bank’s transactions directly benefit small business, and tried to claim Ex-Im was a tool of large corporations. They called it “Boeing’s Bank” because Ex-Im is sometimes used to finance foreign purchases of American made Boeing jets.

After all, every airplane Boeing sells is the product of a vast supply chain made up of nearly 14,000 suppliers. Suppliers such as General Electric, which manufactures jet engines in Cincinnati that power many of these planes. Or Allen Aircraft Products of Ravenna, which make valves for the airplane fuel and water systems. And the flame retardant foam manufacturer Technifab, based in Avon, used on Boeing 737, 747 and 787s.

Boeing spent more than $12 billion last year with Ohio suppliers, which is nearly double what Boeing spent in any other state. That work supports 400,000 direct and indirect Ohio jobs.

But right now, those jobs are at risk because of those in Congress who oppose the Ex-Im Bank. Last year when they tried to shut it down completely, they lost. An overwhelming bipartisan majority of Congress – with the help of Ohio Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown – stood up to say rigid ideology shouldn’t trump American jobs.

And yet those critics just won’t give up. They realized that in order for Ex-Im to approve larger transitions that create the most American jobs, it needed a full quorum of members on its board of directors. Since the bank is currently one member short, refusing to confirm the nominee for that slot could effectively hamstring Ex-Im’s ability to create jobs.

The fringe group pursuing this gridlock tactic doesn’t dispute the qualifications of Mark McWatters, a Republican nominated by the White House. They don’t dispute his prior experience in finance or his expertise as a former law professor. And they acknowledge that he was previously unanimously confirmed by the Senate to the National Credit Union Administration Board, where he has served with distinction.

Those blocking his nomination don’t claim he isn’t an outstanding candidate for the job. But they have simply refused to act on the nomination out of pure power politics – putting political gain ahead of jobs and the economy.

Unless McWatters is confirmed soon, commercial airplane sales are in jeopardy. These sales directly affect the bottom line of every Ohio company that has a hand in building those airplanes.  And there will be more deals that languish or go to foreign competitors after that.  It is a failure of leadership and nothing more.

The time has come for the Senate to do its job so that the Ex-Im Bank can do its job. I urge Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown to demand an up or down vote on this nomination today.

Ryan Augsburger is vice president and managing director of public policy services for the Ohio Manufacturers Association.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.