June 9, 2015 | Commentary on Economy, Budget and Spending, Federal Spending

Showing the Ex-Im Bank the exit

Congress does two things well: nothing and overreact. Well, I have some good news: Doing nothing when it comes to the Ex-Im Bank is exactly what we need right now.

That’s because the charter for the Export-Import Bank, which provides taxpayer-backed loans to foreign countries and companies to pay for U.S. products, is set to expire June 30. To get rid of this poster child for crony capitalism, lawmakers don’t have to lift a finger.

Imagine: For a change, we’d have good reason to applaud a “do-nothing” Congress.

Unfortunately, too many lawmakers seem unwilling to do the right (no)thing. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling has said that Republicans in his chamber are having a “principled debate” concerning the bank’s future.

“I do understand one person’s corporate welfare and politically driven capital allocation is another person’s vital export support program and level playing field,” Mr. Hensarling added.

How anyone can credibly argue the latter is beyond me. I take the view expressed by another politician that Ex-Im is “little more than a fund for corporate welfare.” The politician’s name? Barack Obama, who made that remark when he was running for president. He may have “grown in office,” as they euphemistically say of certain flip-floppers, but the fact is, he was right the first time.

The Ex-Im Bank itself assures us that 90 percent of its transactions supported small businesses in 2014. But an analysis by the Heritage Foundation and George Mason University’s Mercatus Center found that small businesses actually benefit from less than 20 percent of Ex-Im’s financing.

And when the bank does help small businesses, it’s not doing so in an equitable fashion. Indeed, it’s handpicking winners and losers.

Take Zero Motorcycles, a California-based company that sells electric motorcycles. Ex-Im officials, which gave it multiple insurance policies totaling nearly $3 million, like to tout it as a success story. Zero also received grants from the California Energy Commission totaling close to $2 million.

Zero’s Oregon-based competitor Brammo, meanwhile, enjoyed no taxpayer-funded largesse from Ex-Im. It finally had to close its doors earlier this year. It was bought, interestingly enough, by Polaris, which has received millions in insurance and working capital from Ex-Im. Sounds as if it pays, quite literally, to be well-connected.

Mostly, though, Ex-Im’s clientele consists of large businesses, such as General Electric ($6 billion), Bechtel Power Corp. ($4.6 billion), CBI Americas Inc. ($3.2 billion) and Exxon Mobil ($3 billion). But Boeing, the aircraft manufacturing giant, leads the list, having pulled in more than $60 billion in Ex-Im financing.

Many other corporations manage to be financially successful without tapping the taxpayer till. But somehow, we’re supposed to believe, major companies such as Boeing and GE can’t make it without being backed by our tax dollars.

Moreover, there are more than 31 investigations into alleged fraud at the bank. At a recent hearing, members of the House Financial Services and Oversight and Government Reform committees were told these will likely lead to indictments. There’s also an alarming lack of transparency, with the bank failing to account for $25.8 billion in transactions, according to the Heritage-Mercatus report.

In the end, though, Ex-Im should be permitted to lapse on principle.

“The winners should prevail by playing the game better than others, not by forcing taxpayers to give them an advantage,” Garett Churchill, owner of Fluxeon Inc., told The Daily Signal. “The winners should be judged by the success they have, and that’s not achieved on the backs of his fellow countrymen.”

Fluxeon, which employs only two people, sells induction heaters and supplies to individuals and businesses around the world. Like many small businesses, it was approached by Ex-Im but declined what Churchill calls the Bank’s “questionable” benefits.

Ex-Im’s backers would have us believe it’s essential, but the Bank supports only 2 percent of U.S. exports — and it does so in a way that’s fundamentally unfair and financially suspect. It’s time for Congress to sit back and cashier this institution.

 - Ed Feulner is founder of the Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
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Originally appeared in The Washington Times