The debate surrounding the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) has demonstrated all that is wrong with Washington, D.C. Only in Washington would an institution that supports tens of thousands of U.S. jobs, billions of American-made exports, and returns money to the taxpayer each year find itself at the center of a special interest political battle.
As someone who ran for Congress to add some common sense into the public debate, I find this ideological hardheadedness absurd. I am a small business owner who has used Ex-Im to create and support local jobs, and know through firsthand experience that the critics of this program are wrong.
Before I was elected to Congress, I founded and ran a number of small businesses in Western New York. One of those businesses, Audubon Machinery, manufactures and exports oxygen systems around the world.
During my time at Audubon, exports accounted for a majority of our business, meaning that in order to be competitive and support good-paying manufacturing jobs at home, we had to be able to sell overseas. That’s where Ex-Im came in.
For a small business like mine, Ex-Im’s credit insurance and loan guarantee programs were vital for facilitating exports, keeping the business growing, and providing 65 quality jobs.
Unfortunately, if my business were to try and operate today, and support those same jobs, my efforts would be stifled by Congressional inaction.
Due to a vocal minority in Congress, opponents of the bank have blocked an up or down vote on Ex-Im causing its charter to lapse on July 1, 2015. Ex-Im is now unable to close new deals or renew existing policies for American businesses, and without the Ex-Im Bank thousands of jobs are now being outsourced to foreign countries.
For businesses like Audubon that export overseas, finding financial products in the private sector can be difficult, if not impossible. Many banks are often unable to provide services for foreign buyers, particularly those in the developing world. Ex-Im helps fill a gap in the market by arming U.S. manufacturers with the financing they need to compete for contracts overseas.
Ex-Im is a complement, not a competitor to financing from the private sector. In fact, it is forbidden by law to compete head to head with commercial lenders.
The financing tools Ex-Im provides are not some sort of handout or corporate cronyism. Small businesses like Audubon pay fees for all of the financial tools they use from Ex-Im. These fees not only cover the cost of operating the bank but have historically generated a profit for the taxpayer. Since 2009, Ex-Im has generated $2.7 billion in profits for the taxpayer – demonstrating that it is the rare government program that not only works, but pays for itself and then some.
My experience with Ex-Im is the same as that of thousands of small business owners across the country, which is why Congress’s inability to take up reauthorization before Ex-Im’s charter lapsed this summer has been so frustrating.
We are watching a classic Washington game: In order to make a political point, special ideological interests are trying to kill a program that enjoys overwhelming support. Ex-Im enjoys widespread bipartisan support in the House, and the Senate has voted three times this year to reauthorize the bank.
Those in favor of supporting American jobs are continuing to do all we can to ensure this vital program is restored. Several of my colleagues and I have been working to strengthen and renew the Ex-Im Bank. We are not deaf to the principled concerns about protecting taxpayers, which is why our reauthorization legislation includes more protections, more transparency, and more independent auditing.
It is time to put American jobs ahead of blind ideology and pass a reauthorization.
For the good of the economy and the middle-class jobs at risk, I am calling on the leadership in the House of Representatives to support the inclusion of a long-term reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank in the upcoming Continuing Resolution.
The merits of the bank are clear. The support for the bank is clear. And it is clear that every day we wait to reauthorize the bank is another day we are forcing American businesses to compete with one hand tied behind their backs.
The American people have had enough of Washington’s games; it is time to get back to work. It is time to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank.
Collins has represented New York’s 27th Congressional District since 2013. He sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee.