Lew calls on Senate to take action on Ex-Im Bank nominee

Lew calls on Senate to take action on Ex-Im Bank nominee
© Cameron Lancaster

Treasury Secretary Jack LewJacob (Jack) Joseph LewOvernight Finance: US reaches deal with ZTE | Lawmakers look to block it | Trump blasts Macron, Trudeau ahead of G-7 | Mexico files WTO complaint Obama-era Treasury secretary: Tax law will make bipartisan deficit-reduction talks harder GOP Senate report says Obama officials gave Iran access to US financial system MORE on Friday called on the Senate to quickly fill a vacancy on the Export-Import Bank’s board. 

Lew said that getting the 82-year-old bank running at full speed is a top priority for the Obama administration, but the effort faces an uphill battle thanks to opposition from Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.).

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“Given the critical role that Ex-Im plays in supporting U.S. exports, getting the bank fully back in business has been a priority for this administration,” Lew said at the bank’s annual conference in Washington.  

“And it should be a priority for the Senate, as well, which is why I urge the Senate to approve a new member to Ex-Im’s board of directors as soon as possible," Lew said. 

In December, Congress reauthorized Ex-Im's charter, which has expired in June, until September 2019. The bank helps U.S. firms finance overseas projects. 

Shelby, who is opposed to the bank, is still showing no interest in taking up the nomination of John Mark McWatters, a Republican who worked for House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas).

Hensarling has tried to shutter the agency, calling it a reflection of old-school "crony capitalism."

Ex-Im needs to fill one of three vacancies on the five-member board to have a quorum. 

Without a quorum the bank can't approve transactions over $10 million, which is making it difficult for many U.S. firms — large and small — to get the financing they need.

On Thursday, bank President Fred Hochberg and Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg urged the Senate to fill the vacancies.

Hochberg said he remains optimistic that Shelby will move forward because the panel has started to consider several long-stalled nominations. 

But the odds remain low at this point that Shelby will move McWatters unless he can work out a way forward with the White House. 

Mullenberg said that Boeing is at risk of losing business overseas without the bank's export-credit guarantee.

“This deserves a vote,” he said. 

Since President Obama took office in 2009, Ex-Im has financed nearly $235 billion worth of exports, nearly twice a much as the previous administration, supporting more than 1.4 million jobs during that time, Hochberg said. 

Hochberg noted that the bank also has reduced its operating expenses by 30 percent in seven years. The default rate, which is reported to Congress every 90 days, stands at 0.248 percent.

Lew also touted the administration’s economic record of recovery from the financial crisis and urged passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership that "once passed by Congress and signed by the president will open vital markets in the Asia-Pacific region to the goods and services produced by U.S. workers."

“Exports played an important role in the U.S. recovery from the financial crisis," he said.

"They also are a major contributor to U.S. jobs, supporting nearly 12 million of them in 2015."