Sep 19, 2016 - 5:00pm

Defining “Disingenuous” — Attacks on Ex-Im Miss the Mark Again

Senior Vice President for International Policy

According to one definition, a disingenuous argument is one that is “not candid or sincere, typically by pretending that one knows less about something than one really does.” That’s certainly the case with a recent letter opposing legislation relating to the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im).

For those who need a refresher, last year saw a long debate in Congress over Ex-Im’s reauthorization. Ex-Im provides financing and guarantees for U.S. exports that directly support American jobs at no cost to the taxpayer. It’s one of the smallest and leanest of government agencies.

However, the drama has continued despite last December’s overwhelming vote to reauthorize the Bank. Three of five seats on Ex-Im’s board of directors are empty, depriving it of the quorum it needs to be able to function normally.

The White House in January nominated Mark McWatters, a former aide to House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, to serve on the Ex-Im board, but to date the Senate Banking Committee has declined to consider his nomination. Last week, the White House nominated Claudia Slacik to fill one of the other vacancies.

In the absence of a quorum, Ex-Im is unable to extend loans or guarantees in excess of $10 million. Larger firms — including the tens of thousands of smaller firms in their supply chains — are operating at a clear disadvantage in global markets.

Which brings us to those disingenuous arguments. On September 16, a number of activist groups sent a letter to Congress opposing a measure to allow Ex-Im to resume its normal lending practices on an interim basis despite vacancies on its board of directors.

“Attaching this quorum change to a continuing resolution is the latest in a line of efforts that subvert Congressional processes,” they argue.

The use of the word “subvert” here is especially rich. Just 10 months ago, Ex-Im was reauthorized for a four-year period, with two-thirds majorities in both chambers of Congress voting in favor. The reauthorization vote even secured a so-called “Hastert Rule” majority-of-the-majority among Republicans.

The legislation proposed today would not be needed if the Senate weren’t refusing even to consider a nominee for Ex-Im’s board. The only thing being “subverted” here is the will of the Congress to reauthorize Ex-Im, as expressed in a law approved by a bipartisan supermajority.

The activists further claim: “This provision would subvert the Senate approval process for board members of the Export-Import Bank...”

This is the very definition of disingenuous: These activists are complaining about a situation they themselves have helped create.

Obviously it would be better for the Bank if the Senate would simply confirm the pending board nominees. The interim measure at hand is a second-best alternative, but at least it will halt the loss of export sales and American jobs resulting from the Bank’s inability to finance or guarantee exports by larger firms.

The letter goes on: “This provision would allow the bank to make larger loans with even less oversight…”

Again, those lodging this disingenuous complaint about “less oversight” are responsible for the very situation they claim to lament. And they know it.

As Linda Dempsey of the National Association of Manufacturers points out, “without a quorum, the Ex-Im Bank cannot implement the risk-management provisions established in reauthorizing legislation last year, such as establishing a risk-management committee or appointing a chief ethics officer.”

“American taxpayers and small businesses deserve better than this,” the letter concludes.

And here, finally, we are in agreement. You see, far from being a burden on the taxpayer or a subsidy for corporations, Ex-Im charges fees for its services that have generated $7 billion in revenue for the U.S. Treasury over the past two decades above and beyond funds it received in appropriations. Ex-Im actually reduces the budget deficit.

And while Ex-Im is able to lend to small exporters in the absence of a board quorum, most of the small businesses that benefit from Ex-Im are not direct clients of the Bank or even direct exporters. Rather, they are suppliers to the large exporters currently denied the Bank’s support. This includes companies such as GE, which has more than 30,000 suppliers of all sizes, or Boeing, with more than 14,000.

The impasse over Ex-Im’s board of directors is putting billions of dollars in U.S. exports and tens of thousands of American jobs at risk. Congress should act now to ensure that Ex-Im is able to function normally and that U.S. exporters are no longer at a unique disadvantage in the global marketplace.

About the Author

About the Author

Senior Vice President for International Policy

Murphy directs the U.S. Chamber’s advocacy relating to international trade and investment policy.