Federal subsidies for U.S. exports have been slowed for more than a year thanks to Republican congressional resistance, and reports from the field show something unsurprising: When government subsidies fade away, the private sector often steps in.
The Export-Import Bank of the United States is a federal agency that extends loans and loan guarantees to foreign buyers of U.S. goods. Since late 2015, Ex-Im's board has lacked a quorum, because Republicans haven't held a vote on Obama's nominee. Without a functioning board, Ex-Im can't approve deals of greater than $10 million. Before that, for five months in 2015, Ex-Im's charter had expired and the agency couldn't approve any new financing deals.
How are exporters reacting?
"People that relied on EXIM-backed financing," Hernan Mayol, chair of the Florida International Bankers Association's Trade Finance Committee, told Miami Today, "they felt a little pain. They had to go through the private insurance market to find an alternative until it was reauthorized."
That is, when Uncle Sam wasn't there to provide taxpayer-backed trade insurance, private insurers stepped up.
"[I]t's been mostly business as usual for Miami exporters, just as it was before and during the lapse, according to an industry expert," the Miami publication reports.
There is a robust private market in the sorts of financing and insurance Ex-Im provides.
"Ex-Im Bank is a competitor." Michael Kraemer, a banker at AIG told me. "There is a vibrant private export credit market," another financier told me. "Ex-Im provides financing that the private sector also provides."
A Goldman Sachs research note sounded the same theme in 2014. "If the US Export-Import charter is not renewed, we believe the overall impact in the near-to-medium term would be fairly limited given the robust financing environment at present…"
Government subsidies generally do one of two things: they subsidize things that don't have market value, or they displace private sector activity. Much of Ex-Im's work seems to be knocking the private sector out of the way.
Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at email@example.com. His column appears Tuesday and Thursday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.