For too long, federal policies have incentivized businesses to keep their factories, jobs, and money overseas. Led by President Trump’s "America First" agenda, we have made great progress changing course this year. Not only have we undone many of the previous administration’s excessive regulations that stifle economic growth, last week we passed historic tax relief that will significantly increase our global competitiveness. We must build on this momentum by increasing trade opportunities, a mission in which the Export-Import Bank plays a vital role.
Free and fair trade is a vital component to economic prosperity, leading to more jobs, higher wages, and increased opportunities for American businesses to expand their operations. In my home state of South Dakota, we export roughly $5 billion annually, which supports more than 120,000 jobs. Ex-Im’s role in South Dakota is also vital, supporting more than 75 businesses directly or indirectly over the past decade, the majority of which are small businesses.
The Export-Import Bank was created more than 80 years ago to counteract foreign governments who manipulate their markets and create an unfair disadvantage for American producers and manufacturers. Today, Ex-Im remains a small, self-sustaining agency that boosts U.S. exports by offering loan guarantees for international transactions involving U.S. companies. By putting us on equal footing with other countries, Ex-Im helps us keep more businesses and factories here at home, more jobs from being shipped overseas, and produces bigger paychecks for American workers.
To maximize its benefits to U.S. exporters, Ex-Im requires a leader who believes in the mission of the bank and wants it to operate at its full potential. Based on multiple meetings and interactions with former Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J., who was nominated to be president of Ex-Im earlier this year, I could not in good faith support his nomination. Garrett has shown time and again he does not believe in the core purpose of this vital trade agency.
As a congressman, Garrett repeatedly voted to shut down the bank and limit its operations. In a 2015 speech on the House floor, then-Rep. Garrett told his colleagues “we have the opportunity today to keep the Export-Import Bank out of business. We should take each of those opportunities.” Throughout his nomination process, I have concluded that Garrett continues to hold these deeply-held convictions, which explains why he refuses to renounce his past statements and efforts to abolish the bank. It is for this reason I could not support his nomination in the Senate Banking Committee. I fully support reform efforts as proposed by the other four nominees the committee approved, but I do not believe the bank should be abolished, as repeatedly suggested by Garrett.
The president of the Export-Import Bank has enormous power to affect, and even stop, the operations of the agency. He or she also sets the agenda and decides which loan guarantees on international transactions the bank considers when U.S. businesses want to use the bank to expand their markets to other countries. This not only threatens the vitality of Ex-Im-supported companies and the tens of thousands of jobs they sustain, it undermines the goal we share with the president to put American jobs and businesses first.
Ex-Im levels the playing field with our global competitors, costs taxpayers virtually nothing, and operates through fees and interest that it collects from guarantees. In fact, it actually contributes to deficit reduction, returning $284 million to the Treasury in 2016 alone. Every major trading nation in the world has an export credit agency to back its exporters, and Ex-Im must be fully-functioning for our businesses to remain on equal footing with our global competitors.
Mr. Garrett did not share this belief.
Earlier this week, it was reported that President Trump personally thanked Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., for “doing his job” by questioning an unqualified judicial candidate, who later withdrew his nomination. It is in this same spirit that I opposed Mr. Garrett’s nomination to head Ex-Im, an agency he repeatedly tried to shut down as a congressman and whose mission he fundamentally opposes.
I’m glad the president understands the important constitutional responsibility of the Senate’s "advice and consent" role when it comes to nominees. I do support the other four Ex-Im board nominees, and I hope the president will nominate an alternative president in a timely manner.
Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., is a member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.