Pfeifle: Congress should pull the plug on Ex-Im Bank

Mark Pfeifle

Michiganians can sleep safe and sound. The U.S. Export-Import Bank in Washington, D.C. is defending America from its enemies abroad.

Sound ridiculous? It is. Yet that’s the gist of a massive — and largely unknown — lobbying campaign underway in Washington. As part of this effort, 12 high-ranking government officials, including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, recently wrote a letter to Congress in which they claimed that the little-known Export-Import Bank is a “critical element” of America’s national security. They pleaded with Michigan’s representatives and senators to renew the bank’s charter before it expires next month. If it isn’t, the bank will be eliminated.

Only in Washington can special-interest handouts be “critical” to defending America. The bank is an 80-year-old New Deal relic that uses taxpayer money to help foreign businesses purchase American products. Over the past 10 years, it has authorized nearly $215 billion in taxpayer-backed financial support, the majority of which only benefited a miniscule number of mega-corporations. Despite spending all this money, Ex-Im still only supports 2.6 percent of Michigan’s exports.

This isn’t a “critical element” of anything, much less America’s national security. Ex-Im is little more than corporate welfare.

Special interests will say almost anything to keep bilking Michigan taxpayers. What is surprising, however, is the Ex-Im Bank’s beneficiary list. Despite what its lobbyists and supporters claim, this federal agency sometimes supports companies and countries that undermine America’s national security interests.

Don’t take my word for it — look at the bank’s balance sheet. In the past three years, Ex-Im sent over $1.2 billion in taxpayer-backed loan guarantees to a state-owned Russian company known as VEB. This bank was targeted by American sanctions last year.

No wonder: VEB works with another state-owned company, Rosoboronexport, that handles the vast majority of Russia’s arms exports. It’s even an arms supplier for both Syria and Iran — two countries that aren’t exactly known for defending America’s interests.

This isn’t an outlier. American taxpayers, via the Export-Import Bank, have sent billions of dollars to state-owned companies in Russia, China, and plenty of other less-than-democratic regimes.

Why are Michigan taxpayers funding this fiasco?

Mark Pfeifle is president of Off the Record Strategies. He served as a deputy national security adviser at the White House from 2007 to 2009.