Export-Import Bank Supporters Dealt Setback in Congress

The Export-Import Bank’s supporters and beneficiaries very nearly scored a major victory last week. Ex-Im, as it’s called for short, was shut down for about six months in 2014, is back up and running, but not at full strength. For those unfamiliar, Ex-Im gives loans and loan guarantees to foreign buyers of U.S.-made goods. Free-market types generally oppose the bank on grounds of corruption and cronyism; see my paper for more.

Any transaction greater than $10 million must be approved by at least three Ex-Im board members. The trouble is Ex-Im only has two board members right now. As board members’ terms have expired, the Senate has refused to confirm new members, and likely won’t for some time. Since much of Ex-Im’s business goes to big-ticket items such as airplanes and satellites—Boeing alone usually claims 40 percent of Ex-Im’s largesse—the current situation has put quite a damper on Ex-Im’s activities.

The way around Ex-Im supporters’ current predicament is to reduce the quorum requirement so Ex-Im’s current rump board can make the big deals its big beneficiaries have come to expect. But such legislation is unlikely to pass Congress on its own. To get around this obstacle, the idea is to insert a quorum reduction amendment into a must-pass bill, such as the Continuing Resolution bill that passed Congress last week. That way even members who oppose Ex-Im would have to hold their noses and vote for it anyway.

Despite public pleading from President Obama and aggressive lobbying by Boeing, the National Association of Manufacturers, and others, the Continuing Resolution passed without an Ex-Im amendment. Taxpayers and clean-government advocates can breathe easy—for now.

Congress is now adjourned until after the election, so Ex-Im will still be restricted to smaller deals until at least the lame duck session. But with several appropriations bills to pass and other must-pass legislation on the way, keep an eye out for another attempt at an Ex-Im amendment.