What exactly was President Donald Trump doing at the Boeing plant in Charleston, South Carolina on Feb. 17?
The simple answer is getting out of Washington and back to real America for a victory lap. He had much to celebrate in his first month in office and going back to one of the states that paved the way for his victory during their primary a little less than a year ago was a great place to start.
In his formal remarks, Trump reiterated his “America First” doctrine: “We are going to enforce — very strongly enforce our trade rules and stop foreign cheating. Tremendous cheating. Tremendous cheating. We want products made by our workers, in our factories, stamped with those four magnificent words: Made in the USA.”
The President’s call was met by thunderous applause and chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!”
But creeping surreptitiously behind the cheers, the flags, and the pomp and circumstance was a shadow issue: the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im).
Democratic Senators on Feb. 9 emerged from a meeting with President Trump announcing he had embraced this U.S. taxpayer-financed lender to foreign countries marks, a seeming about-face from his “drain the swamp” rhetoric. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) said Trump had promised to add another member to the bank to reach a 5-member quorum that would enable it to approve deals worth $10 billion or greater.
On the campaign trail, Trump had called the Ex-Im Bank “feather bedding” and said a “few companies” could “do well without it,” and that it was “really not free enterprise.”
To jog memories, the Ex-Im Bank, a relic of the Great Depression, was chartered as a federal agency “to aid in financing and to facilitate exports of goods and services” between the United States and any foreign country “to contribute to maintaining or increasing employment of United States workers.”
In fact, in its 80-year history, the Ex-Im Bank has publicly subsidized loans to companies, based not in South Carolina, but in China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Also, contrary to its charter, the Ex-Im Bank boosts only boost a limited number of exports, about $20 billion a year out of $2.3 trillion of exports, or less than 1 percent of all U.S. exports. And then only a limited number of the manufacturers of U.S. goods, but not those which export services.
Case in point: one of the Ex-Im’s largest beneficiaries is none other than Boeing. Boeing, a $90 billion dollar, multinational corporation, manufactures wide-body planes flown by foreign carriers, like Emirate Airlines. By subsidizing the manufacturer, the Ex-Im, appropriately nicknamed the “Bank of Boeing,” effectively subsidizes the foreign carriers purchasing the planes, helping them compete against U.S. airlines.
While large airlines — like Delta and United — are hardly the objects of widespread public sympathy, the free market demands that public monies not be used to pick economic winners and losers. Nor should the tax dollars of South Carolina machinists be used to prop up multi-billion dollar companies like Boeing, General Electric, and Bechtel.
With the Ex-Im Bank serving as a public symbol of crony capitalism, free-market Republicans, including new Trump budget director (and then-Rep.) Mick Mulvaney, fought against reauthorizing the agency in 2015. Only after a massive lobbying campaign did Republicans cave in to a four-year reauthorization.
Would Trump, who in December renewed his call to “drain the swamp,” restore full lending powers to the poster child of the very beast he has pledged to starve?
Maybe not. One spark of hope may come from Trump’s recently confirmed Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director, Mick Mulvaney. The New York Times’ Sharon LaFraniere and Alan Rappeport reported on Feb. 17 that an internal memo at OMB has the Ex-Im Bank flagged for termination.
Meaning there is still a possibility that Trump may axe the Ex-Im Bank after all.
We call on President Trump to recall the words of his own Inaugural Address: “The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation’s Capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land. That all changes — starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment: it belongs to you.”
Truer words were never spoken. Will the president’s actions match his “drain the swamp” rhetoric? Millions of Americans are waiting to find out, and the Ex-Im Bank will be an excellent proving ground. We’ll know more when OMB presents the president’s budget in March.
Rick Manning is the President of Americans for Limited Government.