Don’t imperil U.S. exports

The latest bout of dysfunction in Congress, believe it or not, could essentially yank profits away from the Boeing Co. and hand them to its chief rival, Europe-based Airbus.

Two members from Washington, Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Rick Larsen, are acting as the adults in the room, working to forge a bipartisan consensus against such self-destructive ends.

At issue is authorization for the Export-Import Bank, which helps foreign entities finance the purchase of U.S.-manufactured goods. If Congress continues to block reauthorization, the Ex-Im Bank’s charter will expire May 31. With it would go crucial support for an estimated 288,000 export-related American jobs at more than 3,600 U.S. companies.

The Ex-Im Bank facilitates billions of dollars in airliner sales for Boeing each year, but it also supports smaller exporters. Outback Power Technologies of Arlington, for example, has had $10.7 million in export sales supported by Ex-Im loans to buyers over the past five years.

No tax dollars go to the Ex-Im Bank; it’s self-supporting. It’s an unequivocal success. Yet it faces opposition from enough conservative Republicans, who apparently believe it amounts to corporate welfare, to have put its continued existence in doubt. This despite overwhelming support from GOP-aligned groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturing.

A bipartisan amendment introduced by Cantwell in the Senate and Larsen in the House would extend the bank’s authorization through Sept. 30, 2015, increase its loan-guarantee and insurance ceiling by $10 billion a year to $140 billion by 2015, and improve the bank’s transparency and strengthen congressional oversight.

The amendment appears to have ample support in the Senate, but died in a show of political gamesmanship last month, with even some GOP cosponsors voting against it. Larsen then introduced it in the House, with a Republican co-sponsor, to counter a watered-down (one-year) reauthorization offered by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Larsen’s aim is to bring equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans on board as cosponsors to show the truly bipartisan support the bank has earned.

This is a crucial issue for the national economy, and particularly for our state, where one in three jobs is dependent on trade. Roughly 70 percent of the planes Boeing makes are sold to foreign companies. Airbus would love to pick up a chunk of that business.

“Failure to reauthorize Ex-Im would amount to unilateral disarmament in the face of other nations’ aggressive trade finance programs,” said Larry Brown, political director of Boeing’s Machinists union.

He’s right. This ought to be a no-brainer. Yet in this Congress, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that it’s coming down to a white-knuckle deadline.