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Landrith: Reauthorizing Ex-Im Bank Will Help Economy

After four years of failed big-government policies that multiplied the federal debt without creating sustainable jobs, it’s time for new, pro-growth solutions. It’s time to ax burdensome regulations, fix the tax code and promote entrepreneurship. The years of the Washington bureaucrat are over. The future belongs to American small businesses — in particular those that sell superior U.S. products overseas.

Last year alone, the U.S. Export-Import Bank supported 300,000 U.S. jobs and $40 billion in economic investment. But unless Congress reauthorizes its lending authority and raises its lending limit to cope with exploding demand for U.S. exports, export financing could slow significantly, with devastating consequences for small businesses and our fragile economic recovery.

Some well-intentioned fiscal hawks are claiming that the Ex-Im Bank distorts the free market, exposes taxpayers to the risks of bad loans and amounts to welfare for big corporations. This is a misguided analysis that turns pro-business, fiscal conservatism on its head when applied to the Ex-Im Bank.

The Ex-Im Bank doesn’t lend to U.S. businesses, so it can’t be seriously considered “corporate welfare.” The Ex-Im Bank encourages foreign companies to buy U.S. products mainly by backing commercial loans to foreign buyers, thereby lowering their interest rates. If (and only if) commercial lenders aren’t available, the Ex-Im Bank provides direct loans to foreign customers.

The taxpayer is paid back because the bank never makes a loan without doing a rigorous risk assessment. You can’t get Ex-Im Bank financing without good credit and heaping collateral to back up the loan. Less than 1.5 percent of Ex-Im Bank loans have ever defaulted, a better record than most commercial banks. And even when the loans have defaulted, there’s plenty of collateral available to make good on the loan.

Comparing Ex-Im Bank financing to the underwater mortgages that sank Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is like comparing an IRA with Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.

Moreover, 80 percent of the beneficiaries of Ex-Im Bank financing are small American businesses — not corporate behemoths as critics claim. And even when Ex-Im Bank financing benefits a large business such as Caterpillar Inc. or Boeing Co., thousands of smaller suppliers and vendors also benefit by making the parts of large farm machinery or aircraft. These small businesses drive economic growth, and they desperately need protection against predatory foreign trade practices.

Foreign countries promote exports much more aggressively, putting U.S. businesses at a sharp disadvantage. Compared to the Ex-Im Bank’s $100 billion lending limit, the countries of France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Brazil and India all offer at least four times the amount of export financing as a share of gross domestic product, in addition to direct subsidies and other incentives. China provides 10 times the export financing of the United States. It also devalues its currency to make its products cheaper on the international market. Without the modest financing provided by the Ex-Im Bank, U.S. businesses wouldn’t stand a chance in a severely distorted international market flooded with artificially cheap foreign products.

Critics who argue Ex-Im Bank financing distorts the global market wrongly assume that it isn’t already wildly distorted. U.S. leaders should work to expand free trade wherever they can, but not by unilaterally disarming U.S. exporters against predatory trade practices.

Instead of letting the rhetoric run away with its common sense, Congress should take a long, hard look at the facts: The Ex-Im Bank supports U.S. jobs and investment by counteracting predatory foreign trade practices. It protects taxpayer money by running budget surpluses.

President Ronald Reagan saw the value of having an Ex-Im Bank, and we hope today’s Republicans feel the same way. Congress should reauthorize the bank and raise its lending limit, giving American small businesses the chance to take the reins and drive our economic recovery.

George Landrith is president of Frontiers of Freedom, a conservative think tank.

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