By Former Senators George Allen (R-VA) and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR)
In recent months, the reauthorization of the Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank—a federal organization with longtime bipartisan support—has somehow found its way into the center of a politically fueled debate on international trade.
At the insistence of a few organizations that should know better, certain Republicans are digging in their heels against reauthorizing this important financial credit facility for small, medium and large U.S. businesses. For companies relying on the Ex-Im Bank, this is a very serious threat as the importance of global trade to advancing industry and job growth in the United States is becoming increasingly essential.
With improving productivity of U.S. industry and 95 percent of the world’s consumers living outside the United States, exports are more important than ever to American businesses, manufacturers and the overall strength of our nation’s economy, including hundreds of thousands of creative working American men and women. The ability to thrive in the global marketplace is no longer a luxury reserved for only large corporations; it is a vital operating strategy for the dedicated people who work in small and medium-sized businesses.
As our own economy hobbles its way back to pre-recession levels, U.S. businesses are competing ferociously for a share of growing foreign markets. Meanwhile, their competitors overseas receive aggressive government support, from development funding to export financing. In fact, emerging economies, including China and Brazil, are now providing nearly half of all official export financing. While these countries are ignoring the “rules of the road” by which the United States and others play, don’t our own businesses deserve at least a more level playing field when competing against foreign companies seeking to dominate the market share?
That is certainly how business owner and Vietnam veteran Steve Wilburn feels after his company, FirmGreen, recently lost a bid on a $57 million renewable energy contract to a South Korean competitor, primarily based on the uncertainty surrounding the Ex-Im Bank’s reauthorization. With a growing international interest in alternative energy options, Steve relies on the Ex-Im Bank’s financing for his clients abroad to ensure he can compete for these overseas customers. He has leveraged that support to build his small California-based company into a world leader in alternative energy. While $57 million may seem like pocket change to some larger companies, that money would have funded new jobs at FirmGreen, hundreds of jobs through the manufacturing shops with which the company works and significant revenue back into our own country’s coffers. Instead, South Koreans will likely enjoy those benefits rather than Americans.
Yet, some in Washington are still pursuing the argument that the Ex-Im Bank is simply “corporate welfare,” using taxpayer money to fund dead-end companies, despite all the evidence against this theory. That messaging might raise some eyebrows on Capitol Hill, but it sure doesn’t sit well with someone like Steve, who fought for his country and is now only asking for a fair chance to fight for his business.
If there is one thing we know about American entrepreneurs, it is that they are committed to working hard and accepting their own personal risk to see their business succeed. The Ex-Im Bank follows the same guidelines. If a business wants to work with the Ex-Im Bank, they must pay a fee, and foreign customers pay their loans back with interest. As a result, the agency not only pays for itself, but generates a profit to taxpayers. Last year alone, the Ex-Im Bank sent $1 billion in surplus funds to the U.S. Treasury and bolstered more than 205,000 American jobs…the kind of jobs politicians always say they care about.
With the Ex-Im Bank’s charter set to expire just weeks before the November election, this crucial service must not be used as a bargaining chip for some sort of esoteric political gain. Instead, Republicans would be wise to take this opportunity to support working Americans who are looking to expand internationally and recognize how the Ex-Im Bank encourages economic growth, while enabling our country to retain its competitive edge and remain a global leader with products Made in the USA.