Option No. 1: It's one of those government programs that "don't work" and is merely "corporate welfare."
Option No. 2: It's an "independent" bank that "pays for itself" and creates jobs.
President Barack Obama has flip-flopped between No. 1 and No. 2 when it comes to the U.S. Export-Import Bank.
"Its sole mission is to create American jobs," Obama said in his weekly address Saturday. "That’s it. It helps many American entrepreneurs take that next step and take their small business global."
While urging Congress to reauthorize Ex-Im, Obama said, "the bank works. It’s independent. It pays for itself. But if Congress fails to act, thousands of businesses, large and small, that sell their products abroad will take a completely unnecessary hit."
It's a near-total reversal of what he said on the campaign trail six years ago.
As the Washington Free Beacon noted earlier this month, in 2008 then-Sen. Obama called Ex-Im “little more than a fund for corporate welfare.”
What exactly is Ex-Im?
"Unless you are part of the Ex-Im brotherhood, you couldn't begin to guess when it was created—in 1934 by Franklin D. Roosevelt," the Wall Street Journal explained in June. "It's now kept on life support by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and an in-crowd of current and retired Congressional Republicans and Democrats."
The bank is a government program that provides loans, loan guarantees and other financial support, ostensibly to help American exports compete in the global market.
"Two years ago a bipartisan coalition waved through Ex-Im's reauthorization and increased its lending cap by $40 billion, to $140 billion," the Journal reported. "This year Ex-Im wants another five-year reauthorization and a lending cap boost to $160 billion."
While Obama may now be a supporter of the bank, a strong chorus of dissenters is still asking an important question: Is the bank necessary to "level the playing field" for U.S. companies facing tariffs and taxes abroad, or is it merely a crony capitalist slush fund that distorts market forces?
The Heritage Foundation is pushing to let Ex-Im expire, arguing that the bank will inevitably lose money (as it did in the 1980s) and saying that most of the bank's financing goes to help mega-corporations, such as aerospace giant Boeing, not U.S. small businesses.
George Mason University's Mercatus Center has produced a wealth of research showing the downsides of Ex-Im, including one study showing just how dramatically government money can be sucked up by powerful interests: Between 2007 and 2014, almost half of all Ex-Im disbursements flowed to one state, Washington, which happens to be the home of Boeing.
The Journal made the case that a government bank skews the market — and puts taxpayer dollars at risk unnecessarily — when it provides loans that private banks would have deemed too risky.
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 25: Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers delivers remarks during the 2014 annual conference of the Export-Import Bank (EXIM) April 25, 2014 in Washington, DC. The two-day event focused on global business environment and prospects for growth. Alex Wong/Getty Images
It's also not entirely clear what impact the bank's work really has on the U.S. economy.
"[Ex-Im's] figures do not differentiate between full-time and part-time work," the Post noted, "and, crucially, provide no information about what might have happened to employment at the firms in question, or others, if the resources marshalled by Ex-Im had flowed elsewhere in the economy."
The bank's charter is set to expire Sept. 30.
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