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Congress failed to protect U.S. businesses on foreign trade

Congress failed to protect U.S. businesses on foreign trade

What would you do if your decision could help retain thousands of American jobs, keep American busin

What would you do if your decision could help retain thousands of American jobs, keep American businesses from relocating to foreign countries, and would level the playing field for U.S. companies to fairly compete in international markets?

If you’re like most people, you do everything you can to make sure all of those things happened.

But if you’re Congress, you go on vacation.

Nero, meet fiddle, meet flames.

At issue is congressional renewal of the federal authorization of the Export-Import Bank of the United States. Congress failed to act on the renewal before it broke for August recess on Friday, a blatant dereliction of its duty that could have significant impacts on the national and local economy.

The Export-Import bank is a vital tool in helping American companies large and small compete in international markets. It does so by guaranteeing loans for foreign companies considering buying American-made products and offering insurance and credit to help small businesses attract new customers and money for investment. In addition, it provides American companies with expert assistance in international protocol and in identifying legitimate foreign buyers through the bank's close relationship with the U.S. State Department.

The bank affects not only millions of jobs nationwide, but also has a significant local impact, particularly on local companies that contract with larger companies for services and products.

For instance, if General Electric Co. can’t avail itself of the bank to sell its products to overseas customers, GE’s suppliers in our region could be forced to lay off workers and close plants. Local companies such as Gexpro in Albany, Met Weld International in Altamont, Ushers Machine & Tool in Round Lake, Atlas Copco of Voorheesville and Package One of Schenectady are among those that benefit from the largesse of the bigger companies’ international customers. GE itself could move its local operations to another country without the renewal.

On Wednesday, the CEO of aerospace manufacturer and defense contractor Boeing Co. said he will consider moving his company’s American operations to other countries to take advantage of their equivalent export-import banks. Other large companies around the country last week issued similar warnings of massive layoffs if the bank’s authorization isn't soon renewed.

While some have said the bank is nothing more than corporate welfare at the expense of middle-class taxpayers, and while some debate whether it is profitable or whether it loses money on failed foreign investments, there is no debate that it has a positive impact on the U.S. economy and on our country’s ability to sell American products in other countries.

While opposition to reauthorization mainly comes from conservatives, the action has unusual bi-partisan support among our local representatives in Congress. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer and Congressman Paul Tonko, both Democrats, are on the same side of the issue as Republican Reps. Chris Gibson and Elise Stefanik. Last October, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand announced a partnership with the bank to benefit upstate businesses, lauding its role in helping New York compete in the global economy.

Congress had a chance to reauthorize the bank as part of a temporary highway funding bill it approved late last week, but the renewal was left out of the legislation, over the objections of President Obama.

And with that, Congress went on vacation, not to return until September, when they can still get the renewal done.

But in the meantime, many lucrative deals will go undone, many existing business relationships will go untended, and many companies may decide that they need to up and leave the U.S. in order to tap foreign markets.

And where does that leave our local businesses that rely on international trade? For now, in limbo. But if Congress doesn’t act next month or very soon after, it could leave those businesses in the same condition Nero left Rome — in flames.

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