Upstate Business Journal

Business lobby pressures Graham, Scott on Ex-Im

“We just haven’t gotten assurances if they had to cast the votes how they would vote.”–Ted Pitts, president of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce

August 25, 2017

by Rudolph Bell

The business lobby has turned up the heat on U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott of South Carolina to reject President Donald J. Trump’s nominee to run the U.S. Export-Import Bank.

The National Association of Manufacturers said on Aug. 22 that it had launched radio and online ads in South Carolina calling on the senators to oppose the White House pick, former New Jersey Rep. Scott Garrett.

A radio script released by NAM says Garrett voted more than a dozen times to kill the Ex-Im Bank when he was in Congress, “causing South Carolina manufacturers to lose deals and jobs to foreign countries.”

The South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, the state’s NAM affiliate, made it clear in an earlier statement that it likewise expects Graham and Scott to oppose Garrett.

The state chamber has talked to the offices of both senators about the matter, but got no promises about how they would vote, said Ted Pitts, president.

“They don’t avoid the conversation,” Pitts told UBJ. “We have the conversation. We just haven’t gotten assurances if they had to cast the votes how they would vote.”

Ted Pitts, president of the SC Chamber of Commerce

The federally owned bank helps finance export deals of U.S. companies. Its customer base includes two big South Carolina employers, one in the Upstate and one in the Lowcountry.

General Electric Co. has used the bank to finance overseas sales of power-producing turbines made at its Greenville plant.

When Congress let the bank’s authorization expire temporarily in 2015,  GE said it would put 400 jobs in France instead of Greenville and two other U.S. locations.

GE said at the time it was required to show proof of financing from a governmental export credit agency such as Ex-Im in order to bid on billions of dollars’ worth of power turbine and generator work from foreign countries.

When it couldn’t obtain financing in the United States from Ex-Im, GE said it turned to the bank’s French equivalent. As a result, GE said at the time, it was required to put 400 jobs it expected to create as a result of the potential business in France instead of Greenville; Schenectady, N.Y.; and Bangor, Maine.

The Boeing Co., which manufactures commercial aircraft for export in North Charleston, has been a big user of the bank.

Some Republicans, including former South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney, now director of the Office of Budget and Management, say export financing is a matter for the private sector, not the federal government.

In the Senate, Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama has blocked appointments to Ex-Im’s board, leaving the bank without the ability to reach a quorum and conduct business normally.

In the past, Graham and Scott, both Republicans, have voted to reauthorize the bank.

Graham has been vocal in his support, arguing that U.S. exporters would be put at a competitive disadvantage without the bank since many other countries offer government financing for exports.

Three years ago, Graham brought Fred Hochberg, Ex-Im president at the time, to the Greenville headquarters of Sage Automotive Interiors, a manufacturer of auto textiles that uses the bank.

Asked for the senator’s position on Garrett’s nomination, Graham spokesman Kevin Bishop pointed to a media report that quoted Graham as saying that he would “try to get the administration to give us a better nominee.”

Scott is a member of the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee where Garrett’s nomination sits for now.

Scott has said he won’t vote for the nominee unless he makes a “clear and public statement” supporting the bank, according to a statement forwarded by Scott’s office.

“As one of the few government programs that actually returns money to the Treasury, Ex-Im is a win-win for taxpayers and helps American businesses stay competitive across the world,” Scott said in a separate statement forwarded by his office.

The bank became a favorite target of Heritage Action, a conservative advocacy group, at a time when former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint of Greenville was running its sister organization, the Heritage Foundation.

Heritage Action is continuing its opposition as the Senate mulls Garrett’s nomination.

In an Aug. 7 letter, Heritage Action and other groups vowed to oppose the filling of Ex-Im board seats unless the Senate considers the nominee.

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