Howard Rich
Guest columnist
Last I year joined a pro-free market chorus in condemning Barack Obama’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) — which filed suit against aircraft manufacturer Boeing after the company dared to create new jobs in a Right-to-Work state.
“The Obama administration’s war against Boeing is indeed a war against jobs,” l wrote.
Too bad the company failed to show the same fighting spirit that thousands of limited government advocates demonstrated on its behalf.
Rather than standing up for its free market rights, Boeing instead chose to cut a deal with Obama’s union goons. The company’s surrender not only gave Big Labor the concessions it was seeking with regard to the company’s expansion plans — more importantly it preserved the NLRB’s ability to use such thuggish tactics in the future against other companies (which Obama signaled he was more than happy to do via his unconstitutional recess appointments to the NLRB).
Why did Boeing cave in the face of such a flagrant violation of its rights?
Perhaps that was the plan from the beginning. Remember Boeing is headquartered in Chicago and its executives gave Obama $197,000 in campaign contributions during his 2008 presidential campaign — five times as much money as the company gave the GOP nominee. Obama also named Boeing CEO Jim McNerney as the head of his Export Council.
In 2010, Boeing received $19.4 billion in government contracts – and in early 2011 it was awarded a $35 billion contract to design and build the Pentagon’s next generation air-refueling tanker. The company has also been cashing in on billions of dollars in subsidies doled out through the U.S. Export-Import Bank (a.k.a. the “Ex-Im Bank”) — a crony capitalist entity that authorizes loans to foreign companies.
Boeing benefited from $8.4 billion in Ex-Im loans in 2009, $6.4 billion in 2010 and $11.4 billion in 2011 — gobbling up the overwhelming majority of the bank’s lending capacity.
Obama and his allies are currently seeking a four-year reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank that would raise its lending capacity from $100 billion to $140 billion.
While such a reauthorization would clearly benefit Boeing in the short run, it would also give foreign airlines a competitive advantage over domestic carriers. In fact this is already happening — as Delta Airlines was recently forced to cancel one of its international routes because it could no longer compete with a foreign airline that was receiving Ex-Im loans. Not only does such government intervention put American jobs in jeopardy, it means fewer choices and higher prices for consumers.
Of course that’s not stopping Boeing from playing hardball in pursuit of this government handout. Not only has the company hired two of Washington’s most influential lobbying firms to push for the Ex-Im Bank’s reauthorization — its leaders have made it clear that the company will go on the warpath against lawmakers who oppose the measure.
Such union-style intimidation is unfortunate, but at the end of the day it’s not really Boeing’s fault. After all if the federal government wasn’t in the business of artificially manipulating the marketplace by making these loans — then Boeing wouldn’t be flexing its political muscle in an effort to secure their proceeds.
Government intervention is the underlying problem — and we should not expect Boeing (or any other company) to sacrifice its fiduciary responsibility to shareholders on account of a broader allegiance to taxpayers.
Calls for the elimination of the Ex-Im Bank are nothing new. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders made an impassioned case for getting rid of the bank in 2002 when former president George W. Bush proposed a similar extension (and expansion of its lending capacity).
“The bottom line is that if the Export-Import Bank cannot be reformed so as to become a vehicle for real job creation in the United States, it should be eliminated,” Sanders wrote at the time. “American citizens have better things to do with their money than support an agency that provides welfare for corporations that could care less about American workers.”
A decade later, Sanders has been joined by limited government advocates like U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint.
“Washington bailouts and subsidies don’t make industries stronger,” DeMint wrote last month. “They pick winners and losers, create unintended consequences for American workers, and often end in expensive failures.”
Government shouldn’t be in the business of subsidizing domestic corporations — but it certainly shouldn’t be in the business of subsidizing foreign corporations that compete directly against American companies. That’s why we need to axe the Ex-Im Bank.
The author is chairman of Americans for Limited Government.