- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 13, 2017

President Trump is standing by former Rep. Scott Garrett, his pick to chair the Export-Import Bank, and is prepared to brave protests from business groups and senators who say the ex-congressman won’t even commit to protecting the agency he’s supposed to lead.

It’s Mr. Trump’s first foray into the thorny politics surrounding the bank known in Washington as Ex-Im, which has been in the line of fire for years. Conservatives argue that the bank is market-distorting corporate welfare, and have come close to axing Ex-Im on several occasions.

The bank has survived, thanks to a coalition of some Republicans and many Democrats who say government credit is the only way for some of the nation’s corporations to get financing to compete in a global economy.

Bank backers in the Senate fear Mr. Garrett’s nomination is an attempt to strangle the bank, particularly after what Democrats deemed a “bizarre” meeting with the nominee, who they said wouldn’t fully commit to the bank’s mission or renewing its charter in 2019.

The Trump administration is dismissing those complaints and siding with conservative pressure groups who told Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo that Mr. Garrett’s archconservative record makes him the right man to overhaul the obscure credit agency.

“The White House remains strongly behind Scott Garrett’s nomination,” said White House spokeswoman Natalie Strom. “As Club for Growth, Heritage Action, FreedomWorks and others said in their letter to Chairman Crapo earlier this week, the Ex-Im bank is in serious need of reform and Scott Garrett is the one to do it.”

Mr. Crapo, Idaho Republican, hasn’t weighed in on Mr. Garrett’s likelihood of success in the confirmation process, though he does plan to move the nomination through his committee, a spokeswoman for the panel said.

A product of the New Deal, the bank primarily provides financing for U.S. companies looking to sell their goods overseas when private funding is not available. Some assistance goes to small manufacturers, but corporate giants like Boeing and General Electric absorb the majority of the bank’s funding.

Conservatives say it’s a model of “crony capitalism,” picking winners and losers in the marketplace.

“It turns the economy into a biased actor that uses your taxpayer dollars to tilt the scales in favor of its friends,” Mr. Garrett said in a 2015 speech on the House floor.

Comments like those prompted many Ex-Im supporters to cry foul when Mr. Trump decided in April to tap Mr. Garrett, who had expressed interest in working for the administration after losing his bid for an eighth House term to Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer last year.

“We need a nominee who truly believes in the mission of the Bank and who wants to support and defend an agency that has a more than 80 year history supporting American jobs and businesses,” Democrats said in a statement led by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.

Under pressure, the bank has limped along in recent years.

Conservatives successfully pushed to allow Ex-Im’s charter to lapse in 2015, but moderate Republicans and Democrats rallied to revive it.

Former Senate Banking Chairman Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican who chaired the committee in the last Congress, then refused to move President Obama’s nominees to the bank’s board, making it unable to gain a quorum and approve deals exceeding $10 million.

During the campaign, Mr. Trump dismissed Ex-Im as “featherbedding” for politicians and huge companies that don’t need it. But as president, he said he became convinced the U.S. needs Ex-Im in order to match other countries.

The about-face irked conservatives who had been fighting for years to see the end of the loan program, but they see Mr. Garrett’s nomination as the next best thing to shutting the bank down. They expect him to crack down on fraud and corruption, and to sharpen the bank’s priorities.

“Open up the books, allow [Freedom of Information] requests to go through. There are a lot of groups out there to learn more about what’s going on,” said Andy Roth, vice president for government affairs for the Club for Growth.

Bank opponents are urging Mr. Crapo to defend Mr. Garrett, saying otherwise Mr. Trump’s opponents will have been given a veto over his decisions.

“It is beyond audacious that the recipients of the Bank’s subsidies believe that they, not the President, can select the person to run the very agency that will hand the goodies out to them,” the groups said in their Aug. 7 letter.

Mr. Garrett was nominated as chairman alongside former Rep. Spencer Bachus, Alabama Republican, to serve as vice chairman. Mr. Trump is supposed to name three more nominees to round out the five-member board.

Mr. Crapo would like to move all of the nominees at the same time but is ready to move with just the two nominees if the others don’t come soon.

Senate Democrats want the board to at least have a quorum of three members, though the fight when senators return from August recess will be focused on Mr. Garrett.

The National Association of Manufacturers is teaming up with state-level branches to lean on critical Republican senators, such as Tim Scott of South Carolina, with ad campaigns that say Mr. Garrett’s confirmation would be a “terrible trade deal” for America.

Mr. Scott, who has met with Mr. Garrett, laid down an ultimatum in a statement last week.

“My position has not changed — in order to earn my vote for this position, he needs to make a clear and public statement that he will not seek to dismantle the Bank and that he will support its reauthorization,” he said. “Mr. Garrett will have that opportunity when he testifies before the Senate Banking Committee, where I will be asking some direct and pointed questions regarding the future of the Bank.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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