Sen. Maria Cantwell engaged in a very public maneuver on the Senate floor Thursday, withholding her vote in favor of the big trade bill until she got assurances that there would be a vote on renewing the Export-Import Bank.
Afterward, explaining the fervency of her support for the Ex-Im Bank, she told such a howler that even the Capitol press corps, not empowered to actually call a senator a liar, made sure to offer readers the opportunity to reach that conclusion on their own.
The Democrat from Washington state, where Boeing is the single largest employer, said her support for the Ex-Im — often called the “Bank of Boeing” because fully $8 billion of the bank’s $12 billion in annual loan guarantees support the international sales of its jetliners — wasn’t inspired by the aerospace giant, but by small businesses in her state, like one in Yakima that exports music stands.
Erica Warner’s story for the Associated Press was headlined “Sen. Cantwell turns Senate divisions on trade to advantage,” and began as follows:
President Barack Obama’s trade bill faced a crucial test vote in the Senate, and Washington state Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell saw an opportunity.
In a tense drama that unfolded in real time on the Senate floor Thursday, Cantwell withheld her vote to move forward on the trade legislation until she received assurances from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that the Senate would vote on renewing the Export-Import Bank.
Ex-Im is a little-known government agency that guarantees loans to help U.S. exporters. One of its major beneficiaries: Boeing Co., which employs 80,000 people in Washington state.
Warner then drily noted Cantwell’s explanation:
But Cantwell said she thought not of Boeing but of a little company in Yakima, Wash., that exports music stands to China as she made her stand in the Senate well.
And she added this kick at the end of the story:
Her moves did not go unnoticed by Boeing, whose executive, James McNerney, was on the Hill Thursday morning to meet with Senate Democratic leaders. Company spokesman Tim Neale said, “She’s been very supportive of us on this issue which we really appreciate.”
The Ex-Im bank has become a target of Tea Party conservatives and other free market purists who see it, with some justification, as the height of crony capitalism. It will have to shut down on July 1 if Congress doesn’t reauthorize it.
The Ex-Im bank finances about one-third of Boeing deliveries — 123 jetliners in 2013 alone. A recent study found that “An astounding 66 percent of the bank’s portfolio of loan guarantees was awarded to Boeing during FY 2013.”
Here’s a nifty chart:
And the company has hardly been shy in its advocacy. “We have been lobbying a lot on this because it’s a very important issue for us,” Tim Neale, Boeing’s government operations spokesman, told the New York Times. “We know our business, and we know there are customers even in times of good credit availability that need a government loan guarantee.”
In fact, a somewhat sympathetic view of Cantwell is that she is lying because she’s a victim of extortion. Boeing has all but said: “Hate to see anything happen to all those nice high-paying jobs in your state.”
“Most of my engineering and manufacturing jobs are in the United States and I’d like to keep it that way. But without Ex-Im financing, you’d have to start asking the question” about where they should be, a Boeing executive said last month.
It seems to me that Carl Hulse, writing for the New York Times political blog, could have taken slightly greater liberties than he did in his write-up. He noted Cantwell’s crucial role in the key vote, “sending the measure over a procedural hurdle and toward likely Senate approval by the weekend.”
Then he noted at the end:
Ms. Cantwell says she realizes that people believe she is advocating for Boeing, but she said she was more driven by smaller businesses in her state such as Manhasset Specialty Company in Yakima, Wash., which wants to expand the export of its music stands.
“People are going to think it is about Boeing, but that company is what I am really fighting for,” she said. “Big business can take care of itself.”
So where did Cantwell come up with this little Yakima music-stand business?
Its first appearance in the Nexis database came in a Yakima Herald newspaper story dated March 21:
Manhasset Specialty Co. shipped its music stands to more than 20 countries last year, and those exports made up more than a third of the Yakima company’s overall sales.
The shipments went without any complications. However, the company has a safety net should anything go wrong: risk protection through the Export-Import Bank of the United States, or Ex-Im Bank for short. The protection provides coverage when a foreign buyer fails to pay.
Ex-Im allows Manhasset to extend favorable terms for international customers. For example, it can drop requirements for cash in advance or a letter of credit.
“If we weren’t able to offer those terms, our business would be decreased pretty considerably,” General Manager Dan Roberts said.
Even that story, however, offered its readers some key context, pointing out that from 2007 to 2015, “Of the $61 billion used to back exports from Washington state, more than $59 billion went to Boeing.”
I’m not sure exactly how to read this chart, but it looks like Manhassett got something like .0004 percent of what Boeing did.
And it doesn’t appear that Cantwell’s vote for the trade pact — which most of her fellow Democrats oppose as benefitting multinational corporations, at the expense of American workers — was actually in doubt. Boeing would benefit from that, too. Cantwell announced in April: “I think there is great economic opportunity outside the United States and I support Trade Promotion Authority.”
(This post is from our blog: Unofficial Sources.)
Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images