Last night’s Democratic presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders included a lengthy exchange over an issue of concern to Washington State’s political leadership: the Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank, which members of Washington’s congressional delegation fought hard to protect and then to reauthorize after Republicans shamefully allowed its charter to expire.
The candidates disagree over whether the bank is a good idea. Hillary Clinton supports it; Bernie Sanders opposes it. Each candidate spoke to their position around midway through the debate, as we can see from the transcript (be warned, in the interest of offering fuller context, this is going to be a lengthy excerpt):
CLINTON: You know, if we’re going to argue about the 1990s instead of talking about the future, which I’d much prefer because I think every election is about the future, and you all deserve to know what we will do to help you have a brighter future — but, if we are going to talk about the 1990s, I think it’s only fair to say that at the end of the 1990s, after two terms of my husband’s presidency, the unemployment rate in Michigan was 4.4 percent.
There had been a net increase of 54,000 manufacturing jobs. There had been a net increase of 653,000 jobs overall.
And, one of the ways jobs were brought to, and grown here in Michigan was through something called the Export-Import Bank which helped a lot of businesses, particularly small businesses, be able to export around the world.
Senator Sanders opposes that. I think we’re in a race for exports. I think China, Germany, everybody else supports their businesses. Here in Michigan there’s been $11 billion dollars in recent years used to support exports, primarily from small businesses.
I favor that, he’s opposed it. I want to do everything I can for us to compete and win in the global economy…
COOPER: Senator Sanders…
CLINTON: … and that’s what I will do as president…
COOPER: I just want to explain to viewers what the Export- Import Bank is, in case everybody is not quite as wonkish as everybody on this stage here. The Export-Import Bank, it’s a federal agency, it gives loans to companies that export American products. Senator Sanders, you do oppose it. The vast majority of the bank’s customers are small businesses, 176 right here in Michigan.
What do you say to small business owners.…
SANDERS: I’ll tell you what I say…
COOPER: Who rely on the bank to make their company profitable…
SANDERS: I’ll tell you what I say. Do you know what the other name of the Export-Import Bank is? What it’s called in Washington [D.C.]? It’s called the bank of Boeing because Boeing itself gets 40 percent of the money discharged by the Export-Import Bank.
Seventy-five percent of the funds going from the federal government, the Export-Import Bank, goes to large, profitable corporations. Many of these corporations have shut down in America, and have gone abroad to exploit poor people.
You know what? I don’t think it’s a great idea for the American taxpayer to have to subsidize through corporate welfare profitable corporations who downsize in the United States of America.
SANDERS: Seventy-Five percent of that money goes to large profitable corporations.
COOPER: Senator Sanders, you are the only member of the Democratic caucus to vote against it. You’re agreeing with Senator Ted Cruz on this, why is he right and the Democrats wrong?
SANDERS: Well, let me tell you, I don’t want to break the bad news.
SANDERS: Democrats are not always right. Democrats have often supported corporate welfare…
SANDERS: Democrats have supported disastrous trade agreements, but on this issue I do not believe in corporate welfare, and in fact, Secretary Clinton may know or not know, but as a member of the Financial Services Committee, I worked hard and successfully to make sure that at least 20 percent of the money went to small businesses which is where it should go and not to profitable corporations and downsizing in our country.
COOPER: Secretary Clinton?
CLINTON: When I traveled around the world on your behalf as Secretary of State and went to 112 countries, one thing I saw everywhere was how European and Asian countries were supporting their companies back in their countries, to be able to make sales and contracts in a lot of the rest of the world. In fact, without the export-import bank, supporting businesses of all sizes — I believe more jobs would be lost here at home and more jobs literally would be exported. Instead of exporting products, we would be exporting jobs.
I just believe that Senator Sanders took that lonely position because most of us who saw the results — I saw it as a senator from New York. Your Senators saw it here in Michigan. They can give you the names of 240 companies in Michigan that have been helped.
There is a company in Levonia being helped, there are companies all over this state. I know, if we are going to compete and win in the global economy, we can’t let every other country support their companies and we take a hands off approach. I will not agree with that.
COOPER: I’m going to let you respond but I just want to push back on this. Senator Sanders is correct, the majority of the money does go Boeing, does go to companies like Caterpillar.
Do they need this money?
CLINTON: I will tell you what, Anderson, after I investigated it, I concluded they did and here’s why. There two big plane manufacturers in the world, there’s Airbus and Boeing. Airbus does everything it can to get contracts to sell planes everywhere in the world. We don’t have as quite an aggressive outreach from our government.
I did go in many places around the world to sell American products because the alternatives were usually European, Asian, primarily Chinese products. That to me was an unacceptable concession.
So yes, Boeing and other big companies get support just like their competitors do from the companies that they are from in the countries that provide the support.
COOPER: Thank you.
SANDERS: Isn’t it tragic that the large multinational corporations making billions of dollars a year, shutting down in America, going to China, going to Mexico? Absolutely they need a handout from the American middle class — I don’t think so.
It should be noted that the Export-Import Bank doesn’t merely benefit large companies like Boeing and Caterpillar. It also benefits small businesses that export goods to foreign markets. Other countries help their companies make sales by providing financing, including the European countries where Airbus does business. Why shouldn’t the United States of America help its companies?
“In FY 2015, nearly 90 percent of EXIM Bank’s transactions — more than 2,300 — directly supported American small businesses,” says a fact sheet on Ex-Im’s website.
It should also be noted hat Ex-Im actually generates money for the United States Treasury. As the fact sheet also says: “Over the past two decades, the Bank has generated nearly $7 billion more than the cost of its operations. That’s money EXIM Bank generates for the American taxpayer, to help reduce the federal deficit.”
In our view, the Export-Import Bank is a valuable public service that the federal government provides to American businesses large and small. We support it.
Bernie Sanders does not support Ex-Im. That may bother Washington State’s political leadership and editorial boards. But will it cost Sanders support in the upcoming Democratic presidential precinct caucuses on March 26th, as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Joel Connelly has suggested? We don’t think so.
The basis for our belief is simple.
Ex-Im matters to many Washingtonians, but we’re guessing most caucusgoers will be caucusing for the candidate who they trust and identify with, in spite of any disagreements they may have with the candidates on the issues.
That’s usually the way it is. The issues are certainly relevant to informed voters, but issues simply don’t drive voting decisions for most folks. Trust does. People vote their values, and they vote their identity. Authenticity matters.
There’s no evidence that suggests that any significant number of people decide who to vote for by pulling out scorecards when they fill out ballots, and running through a laundry list of issue positions before calculating who they’ll fill in the oval for.
Furthermore, Washington State’s Democratic caucuses are an exercise in grassroots politics. Washington State’s editorial boards and business elites don’t control the outcome — Democratic voters and Democratic activists do, as they should!
In 2008, most of Washington State’s political leadership (including the superdelegates) backed Hillary Clinton. She enjoyed the endorsements of Jay Inslee, Patty Murray, Maria Cantwell, Gary Locke, Ron Sims, and more.
Barack Obama was able to secure the support of Adam Smith, Greg Nickels, and then-Governor Chris Gregoire, but Clinton definitely had more elected leaders in her camp. Did it help Clinton ride to victory? Nope. Obama won a decisive victory in Washington. He swept the state, and captured most of Washington’s delegates.
Obama’s string of February victories, which included his triumph here in Washington, gave him momentum and crucial delegates. It made all the difference in the end, because Clinton kept competing through March, April, and May, only bringing her campaign to an end in June when Obama clinched the nomination.
This time around, Washington State’s political leaders are again mostly in Hillary Clinton’s corner. But that does not mean Clinton will be victorious. The fate of the caucuses will be determined by the voters and activists who show up. It’s smart that Clinton and Sanders have each opened offices here, and hired staff in an effort to get their supporters out on March 26th. May the best candidate win!
And, to those who passionately support Ex-Im and care about its future, we offer this advice: You’re better served working to educate Bernie Sanders about Ex-Im’s value than trying to use his current position against him. If he happens to become the nominee, it’s going to be important for our state that he rethink his position.