Our Voice: Export-Import Bank crucial to Washington's economy

Why should the federal government operate a bank to help American businesses export their products?

Because it works.

In fact, it's been working for 80 years, ever since Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order in 1934, creating the Export-Import Bank as part of the New Deal.

The bank provides credit insurance, loans and guarantees to help foreign buyers purchase U.S. goods and services. The services are critical to Washington's trade-dependent economy.

The bank's charter expires Sept. 30, and it will cease to exist unless Congress acts to reauthorize the institution.

Many conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives want to see the bank disbanded. Critics say such corporate welfare not only unnecessarily puts taxpayers' money at risk but it also runs counter to philosophical objections to big government programs.

When ideological purity means putting American jobs in jeopardy, it's time to re-examine your ideals. A closer look shows some fatal flaws in the reasoning.

By financing the export of American goods and services, the Export-Import Bank has supported 1.2 million private-sector, American jobs since 2009, supporting 205,000 jobs in 2013 alone.

Washington has as much to lose as any state if Congress fails to renew the bank's charter. Since 2007, 183 of the state's companies have lined up $111 billion in financing through the bank. That's almost half the national total of $232 billion.

That's largely because of Boeing, the nation's largest exporter. Resentment against Boeing's influence is providing fuel to opponents, many of whom ridicule the bank as "The Bank of Boeing," reported Rob Hotakainen of the McClatchy Washington, D.C., Bureau.

Boeing's international buyers are the bank's biggest customers -- they obtained $7.9 billion in loan guarantees last year to purchase 106 airplanes.

But it's more than Boeing at stake -- 40 percent of all the jobs in Washington are tied to international trade, according to Eric Schinfeld, president of the Washington Council on International Trade.

Every corner of the state benefits. "Here's the bottom line: If the bank is allowed to go away, thousands of jobs in Washington state will be lost. That's the fact," Democratic Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash., told Hotakainen.

About 90 percent of the Ex-Im Bank's transactions involve small businesses, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said in a statement Tuesday, just before a meeting with U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet to discuss how failing to renew the agency would hurt small businesses and American jobs.

Every member of Washington's congressional delegation -- with one notable exception -- has declared support for the bank.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, isn't yet on board, a situation that the Olympian newspaper described as surprising.

Forty of Boeing's suppliers are in McMorris Rodgers 5th District, doing more than $360 million annually and employing hundreds of workers.

But even if Boeing was the only company to benefit, describing the bank as corporate welfare is inaccurate. The fact is, the agency is not a drain on taxpayers.

The Export-Import Bank funds itself by charging fees to foreign purchasers using its services. It doesn't cost taxpayers any money, but just the opposite. The default rate is less than 1 percent. Last year, the bank returned more than $1 billion to the U.S. Treasury.

Forty-one House Republicans and all House Democrats signed a letter of support for the bank. Bipartisan support isn't surprising. Any member of Congress -- Republican or Democrat -- who votes against reauthorization can't credibly claim to support job growth.