Both the U.S. House and Senate have approved a three-year extension of the Export-Import Bank, a federal program that assists U.S. companies in selling their goods overseas.
But the issue split members of the S.C. Delegation as the state's biggest industrial catch — Boeing — flexed its muscle in the run-up to the vote.
The Export-Import Bank provides financing for cash-strapped foreign investors willing to buy American goods, but sometimes unable to secure the cash or credit. The bank has been a strong asset in distributing Boeing planes overseas — a primary reason the company felt confident in expanding its U.S. manufacturing to South Carolina.
But a necessary re-authorization of the program hit opposition, particularly from hard-line conservatives in the U.S. Senate — chief among them being Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).
In a recent opinion piece, DeMint claimed he isn't anti-Boeing, he's pro-freedom. "Freedom isn’t perfect, but it is fair," he wrote. "And any time government hands out favors, they’ll be unfair to someone."
A few weeks ago, Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Jim Albaugh congratulated more than 6,000 North Charleston employees as the first locally-made Dreamliner airplane rolled out of the hangar.
But his message came with a warning of sorts for those workers — and the legislators who represent them in Washington.
"Eighty-five percent of the airplanes that are going to be coming out of this factory are going to be sold overseas. And many of them are financed by the Ex-Im bank in Washington, D.C.," Albaugh said. "In fact, the first six airplanes we're going to deliver to Air India are all financed by the Ex-Im bank."
He thanked those representatives who were already supportive of the bank extension, but he also had a message for the Congressional members on the fence or opposing the bank extension.
"Ex-Im bank gives us a level playing field to compete on around the world," Alabaugh said, before looking around the crowd of thousands. "And I'll tell you what it also does: It creates jobs right here in South Carolina."
In the end, four House members from S.C. supported the extension: Democrat Jim Clyburn and Republicans Joe Wilson, Tim Scott and Trey Gowdy.
Both Scott and Gowdy qualified their support afterwards, both saying that they want to see the Ex-Im bank closed, but not right now.
"We want the Ex-Im Bank to go away but want to do it the proper way," Gowdy told Gannett. "To ask Boeing, GE and Michelin to compete against countries that are cheating is unfair to South Carolina."
When the measure reached the Senate on Tuesday, 77 Senators joined Sen. Lindsey Graham in supporting the bank extension. DeMint was among the 20 members to vote against.
"It's one thing to do reform. It's another thing to unilaterally surrender," Graham said on the Senate floor.