Five hundred miles down the Atlantic coast, there’s a debate taking place in Washington that would have a significant impact on our economy here in Maine. The debate is centered on a little-known government agency called the U.S. Export-Import Bank, which helps manufacturers sell goods they make in the U.S. to customers overseas.
The bank does this by providing loan guarantees when commercial banks can’t or won’t offer them, leveling the playing field for U.S. companies competing against countries, such as China and Russia, which use similar banks of their own to undercut U.S. bids.
Working with the Ex-Im Bank helps U.S. companies sell more goods overseas. And when we export more abroad, we can hire more workers at home.
As the plant manager of the General Electric Power and Water Plant in Bangor, I know this firsthand. We manufacture steam and gas turbine components that are sold all over the world. Our volume has increased by more than 25 percent, and we have hired more than 50 new, full-time employees during the last two years at our facility. This growth would not have been possible without the help of the Ex-Im Bank.
It’s not just big companies such as GE that benefit, either. Since 2007, the Ex-Im Bank has supported more than $266 million in export sales from our state. Those sales, in turn, have supported nearly 1,700 Maine jobs. Those are real people, our friends and neighbors, whose livelihoods are at risk because Congress hasn’t acted. Across the U.S., the bank supports more than $233 billion in exports — or roughly 1.5 million jobs.
U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin recently said he didn’t think there were people in Maine who support the Ex-Im Bank; if that were the case, he must not be listening very closely because we have 425 employees here at the Bangor facility alone, in addition to the additional 1,700 workers who rely on the Ex-Im Bank for their work in the state of Maine.
Anyone who supports reducing the deficit also should support the Ex-Im Bank, which actually returns money to the U.S. Treasury. You read that right. Over the last 20 years, the bank has sent $7 billion in returns to the U.S. Treasury. That’s not an opinion that’s up for debate but a fact, backed by real government transactions. Equally important, that’s money you and I don’t have to pay in higher taxes or might otherwise get added to our national debt.
We hear a lot of talk that supporting job growth is a priority for our representatives in Washington. Supporting the Ex-Im Bank is one opportunity where they can live up to what they say. But Poliquin overlooks those jobs and sales in the piece he wrote for the Maine Wire.
Poliquin correctly points out that a few bad apples have tried to take advantage of the bank, but he could do something to fix that while maintaining this critical economic tool. Congress already has legislation in the House of Representatives and in the Senate that would enable the bank to continue doing this important work while instituting new safeguards to help address the concerns of Poliquin and others.
Officials in Washington have been discussing the bank for months and even held a test vote in the Senate that received overwhelming, bipartisan support. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King voted for the bank, but none of that matters until Congress does its job and takes an official vote on the issue. It’s time for Washington to do what’s right and reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank so businesses here in Maine can compete overseas, provide jobs here at home and help grow the economy.
Poliquin said he would continue to “ask the hard questions” about the bank as the debate in Congress progresses. But he would better serve Mainers by stepping up, putting special interests and political rhetoric aside, and joining those members of Congress who are working to fix this institution that benefits so many of his constituents and Americans across the country.
Reauthorizing the Ex-Im Bank is good for Maine, good for our economy and good for our country. I urge Poliquin to vote to reform and reauthorize Ex-Im when he returns to work next month and encourage every Mainer to ask their representatives to do the same.
John Kenney is manager of the GE Power Systems plant in Bangor.