Govs. Jay Inslee and Butch Otter signed on to a letter Tuesday urging Congress to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, but the owner of a Palouse company sometimes listed as a beneficiary of the institution says the United States should let it go out of business.
Speaking to reporters by telephone from the Farnborough Air Show in southern England, where Boeing Co. was closing deals with foreign customers for new jetliners worth billions of dollars, Gov. Inslee said the bank is key to continuing those sales and the tens of thousands of jobs they support for the aerospace giant and its suppliers.
“Washington is the most trade-dependent state … and the most dependent on this institution,” Inslee said.
Later in the day, Inslee, a Democrat, released a letter signed by 31 governors that he co-authored with Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican.
The Export-Import Bank provides low-interest loans, guarantees and insurance for some foreign purchasers of American goods. It was started in the 1930s and reauthorized by Congress at regular intervals, often without major controversy. Up for reauthorization this September, it faces opposition from some Republican leaders in the House of Representatives who say it distorts free markets and unfairly picks winners and losers based on politics.
That questioning is healthy, Edmund Schweitzer III, founder of Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories in Pullman, said Tuesday.
He believes the private sector can handle financing for American exports and Congress should scale back the bank over a few years while the administration works with other countries to make world markets freer, then close it down.
“They should dial it down over a period of several years instead of flipping off the big switch,” Schweitzer said.
The company is listed on the bank website as receiving $3.6 million from the institution, which has prompted some politicians to mention SEL when listing Washington companies that rely on the bank. But that’s misleading, Schweitzer said: “We do not ask the Ex-Im Bank for anything. Sometimes — rarely — our customers do.”
When a customer asks if Schweitzer can work with the bank, the company says yes, because it’s there, he added. “We’d be crazy to say no.”
In their letter to the top Republicans and Democrats in both chambers of Congress, Inslee, Idaho’s Otter and the other governors said refusing to reauthorize the bank would put U.S. companies at a “serious disadvantage,” leading to fewer exports and lost jobs. Competitors in other countries get extensive support from their nation’s export credit agencies and the Export-Import Bank allows American companies and workers “to compete on a level playing field.”
Schweitzer said the argument that the United States has to have the bank because other countries have something similar is somewhat like a child telling a parent he should get to do something because his friends get to do it, not because it’s right.
“Just because a foreign government subsidizes their industry doesn’t mean we should,” he said. “I can’t think of any constitutional basis for the U.S. government to be doing this.”
Some House Republicans, including Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane, have said they will only vote to reauthorize the bank if Congress approves reforms and requires more transparency on the bank’s actions. Inslee said that would be fine as long the bank keeps critical functions.
The call for transparency might be part of the ideological battle over the bank, the governor said, adding: “When I was in Congress, I never saw the need for that.”