Published Opinion - Bennett: End Political Games Using Ex-Im Bank as Pawn

November 10, 2015

  1. By Tony Bennett, president of the Texas Association of Manufacturers

Until about a year and a half ago, most Americans had probably never heard of the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im), which is our nation's export credit agency that finances exports of American-made products. The Bank is a must-have economic tool for exporters in the United States to compete globally, as all major exporting countries have a similar credit agency. Sadly, Ex-Im Bank has become a pawn in hyperpartisan politics of the worst kind and the fallout for small businesses in Houston and beyond has been real and lasting.

A determined band of congressmen has been doing its dead-level best to kill the agency and the thousands of Texas companies and employees that depend on exporting to stay in business. Amid political jockeying - which has nothing to do with good government - the authorization that allows the Ex-Im Bank to extend credit to private companies expired in June and the agency has been unable to finance exports ever since.

The congressmen's opposition? They claim the bank benefits only large corporations. They couldn't be more wrong. More than 1,000 Texas companies - of all sizes - benefit from Ex-Im Bank and small business exports represent the top category of Ex-Im Bank-supported exports.

The lapse in Ex-Im Bank financing is especially troubling in Houston, the top metropolitan exporter in the nation with some $119 billion in exported merchandise in 2014. Ex-Im Bank is essential for Houston-area exporters like Gaumer Process and Bishop Lifting Products, whose representatives recently traveled to Washington, D.C., in attempt to break through the political din and discuss real-world consequences of allowing the Bank's authorization to expire. Likewise, according to news reports, Houston's CECA Supply and Services said it will likely lose 30 to 40 percent of its sales if Ex-Im Bank is not renewed.

Olney-based Air Tractor, which manufactures agriculture and fire suppression airplanes, recently testified before a congressional hearing that the company already has lost sales due to the lack of Ex-Im financing. Rockwall-based Special Products and Manufacturing said that the lapse of Ex-Im is one reason the company put a planned expansion on hold.

These are examples of small and medium-sized companies that can only compete on a global scale and win deals that benefit U.S. workers if Ex-Im Bank is renewed. Renewing the bank will also allow larger companies to once again compete for foreign contracts that require export credit-agency financing, supporting thousands of smaller businesses in the supply chain.

Thankfully, a bipartisan supermajority in the U.S. House of Representatives last month voted overwhelmingly to renew the Ex-Im Bank, continuing an 80-year history of broad congressional support for this critical economic tool U.S. Reps. Ted Poe, Randy Weber and Kevin Brady, representing Houston-area congressional districts, along with 15 other members of the Texas delegation, were among those who supported renewing Ex-Im Bank. As representatives of the nation's largest exporting state, these leaders understand that Ex-Im Bank matters to Texas exporters of all sizes.

But the fight over Ex-Im Bank isn't over. Even as missed economic opportunities mount, opponents of Ex-Im are attempting to thwart the will of the majority in the U.S. House and Senate by offering "poison pill" amendments to a bill that includes Ex-Im provisions. Their goal - tone deaf as it is - is to prevent the bank from doing its job in support of U.S. exporters small and large.

Opposition to Ex-Im Bank was never about jobs or growing U.S. businesses. Obviously, the agency makes economic sense. Rather, opponents orchestrated this political ruse. They are using the demise of Ex-Im to score partisan points and win favor among special interests.

Enough is enough. It's time to move beyond political games and let Texas businesses get back to work. Hopefully, Congress will prioritize smart policy over politics in the end and reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank for many years to come. Putting this ugly chapter of politicking behind us will be welcome news to exporters in Houston and beyond.

Bennett is president of the Texas Association of Manufacturers, which represents over 500 companies from every manufacturing sector.

View this column as published in the Houston Chronicle.