Biz groups take victory lap on Ex-Im Bank

Biz groups take victory lap on Ex-Im Bank
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Business groups are hailing the return of the Export-Import Bank to full strength after a contentious four-year battle, even as they prepare for the next fight over the future of the credit export agency.

The fight over the bank pitted some of the nation's most influential business groups, such as the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), against powerful conservative groups and GOP lawmakers.

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Advocates scored a victory on Wednesday when the Senate confirmed Kimberly Reed as bank president and former Rep. Spencer BachusSpencer Thomas BachusBiz groups take victory lap on Ex-Im Bank On The Money: White House files notice of China tariff hikes | Dems cite NYT report in push for Trump tax returns | Trump hits Iran with new sanctions | Trump praises GM for selling shuttered Ohio factory | Ex-Im Bank back at full strength Export-Import Bank back to full strength after Senate confirmations MORE (R-Ala.) and Judith DelZoppo Pryor to the board, giving the bank the required quorum to approve larger deals for the first time since 2015 under then-President Obama.

It was a high-stakes fight for both sides.

“We’ve been losing billions of dollars in deals and thousands of manufacturing jobs to countries like China as a direct result of Ex-Im being dysfunctional the past four years,” said Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers and a vocal advocate for the bank.

Boeing, the nation's largest manufacturing exporter, hailed the vote. 

“Congress took a key step today to help American companies compete and win in the international market,” Tim Keating, executive vice president of government operations at Boeing, said in a statement Wednesday. "Now the Ex-Im Bank is fully operational and can begin approving the billions in deals stuck in the pipeline that 240,000 American manufacturing workers are counting on."

For decades, the bank has facilitated exports from U.S. businesses by guaranteeing loans for foreign buyers. But in 2015, the bank's authorization briefly lapsed amid opposition from conservatives, who derided it as crony capitalism that unfairly subsidized manufacturing giants.

Obama eventually signed a reauthorization in December 2015, but opponents managed to hold up any nominees to the bank. Supporters were left with only two members on the board, short of the quorum needed to sign off on deals of more than $10 million, a serious handicap to the bank's work.

“We think just in 2016 and 2017 that there were 80,000 jobs, about $119 billion in output, that were lost because the agency couldn’t approve any deals over $10 million,” Timmons said.

For advocates of the bank, one of the toughest stretches in the fight was when President TrumpDonald John TrumpPompeo changes staff for Russia meeting after concerns raised about top negotiator's ties: report House unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Ben Carson: Trump is not a racist and his comments were not racist MORE tapped former Rep. Scott GarrettErnest (Scott) Scott GarrettBiz groups take victory lap on Ex-Im Bank Export-Import Bank back to full strength after Senate confirmations Manufacturers support Reed to helm Ex-Im Bank MORE (R-N.J.), a staunch critic of Ex-Im, to lead the agency in 2017. Garrett's nomination was eventually blocked, an embarrassing blow to the administration.

Advocates, though, had been pressing their case with Trump early to sway the administration to support the bank. 

Timmons said the bank came up in one of his first talks with Trump in March 2017 during a meeting with small- and medium-sized manufacturers. They made the case that Ex-Im was not just a tool for bigger exporters.

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Timmons said he reached out to the White House after Garrett was blocked by the Senate Banking Committee. The White House asked for his input, and Timmons floated Reed as a potential nominee, one who could carry out the bank's mission while also backing reforms important to critics.

“She has incredible experience and knowledge. She’s a reformer and from what we’ve heard from folks who have opposed the bank in the past, they have sincerely, I believe, wanted to see some reforms of the banks and the banks’ operations,” Timmons said. “We have no problem with that at all. We just want to make sure the bank is functioning.”

Conservative advocacy group Heritage Action said it was "disappointed that so many in the Senate sided with foreign companies over American jobs and the American worker."

"We hope to see Ms. Reed take the effort to reform the Bank seriously and, eventually, ensure its conclusion," the group said in a statement to The Hill.

The Senate's votes to confirm Reed, Bachus and Pryor on Wednesday, though, brought cheers from advocates of the bank.

Neil Bradley, chief policy officer at the Chamber, said in a statement that the confirmations would "allow the Bank to get back to its critical mission of supporting U.S. exporters.

"There is currently a backlog of nearly $40 billion in pending deals awaiting board approval at Ex-Im, and these deals will support thousands of good American jobs,” Bradley added.

“This will benefit businesses of all sizes and expand export opportunities for American-made products, supporting U.S. job and economic growth," the Business Roundtable said in a tweet.

Timmons called the long fight "extraordinarily disappointing to manufacturers."

"When they look at Congress and they hear from members of Congress that they want to do everything they can to support manufacturing investment and jobs in the country and then turn their backs on the agency, that has been extraordinarily disappointing,” Timmons said.

But he also praised the bipartisan support that led to the bank's revival. "It’s very encouraging to see [Senate Majority] Leader [Mitch] McConnell advance them for a vote. It’s very encouraging to see the White House and the administration rally behind it.”

The bank now has three of its five board seats filled. Supporters and opponents, though, are already looking ahead to the next fight in September, when lawmakers must reauthorize the bank. 

That will take another big push from business groups.

“I think we have some great momentum going into the debate of the reauthorization,” Timmons said.

Bradley said “the Chamber also stands ready to work with Congress to secure reauthorization of this important agency before its charter expires in September.”

Timmons painted the bank's work as a compliment to Trump's efforts to boost American jobs and level the trade playing field.

“When the president of the United States is expending a tremendous amount of political capital to try to get China to play by the rules, and to adopt what we’ve advocated for at NAM—a bilateral and enforceable rules-based trade agreement with China—you can’t let them win the battle of financing guarantees for exports and they certainly have been during this time,” he said.

Timmons said members of Congress will be hearing from manufacturers about the importance of the bank in the run-up to the reauthorization vote.

“We’re going to make sure that we continue to not only talk about the data points but also to share the stories and the faces of the manufacturing employees who have jobs today because of the work of the Export-Import Bank,” Timmons said.

Updated at 7:18 a.m.