Reagan: Really Not an Ex-Im Fan

As I mentioned last week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other organizations, such as the National Association of Manufacturers, the Aerospace Industries Association, and the Nuclear Energy Institute, are going to great lengths to save the Export-Import Bank, which needs to be reauthorized this summer. Some of these efforts feature a 1984 letter signed by President Ronald Reagan praising the bank on its 50th anniversary — which is interesting, considering that Reagan repeatedly called for severe cuts to the bank’s funding.

I collected a few key quotes last week in my Washington Examiner column:

During his address before a Joint Session of the Congress on the Program for Economic Recovery on Feb. 18, 1981, Reagan said, “We’re asking that another major industry — business subsidy I should say – the Export-Import Bank loan authority, be reduced by one-third in 1982. We’re doing this because the primary beneficiaries of taxpayer funds in this case are the exporting companies themselves–most of them profitable corporations.”

Here is the video:

And he did what he said he would do: Funding for the bank dropped significantly from what Jimmy Carter wanted for the bank to what Reagan’s budgets authorized.

Here are a few more quotes:

In his address to the nation on the Federal Budget and Deficit Reduction on April 24, 1985, he noted, “Unfortunately, hardly anyone could honestly call Federal budgets wise, careful, or fair. . . . Is it fair to ask taxpayers to help pay billions for export subsidies to a handful of America’s biggest corporations?” And he added, “We’ll also save billions by eliminating taxpayer subsidies to some of America’s biggest corporations through Export-Import Bank loans and by abolishing the Small Business Administration’s lending programs, which are not only costly and unfair but unneeded in an economy creating over 600,000 new businesses and corporations a year.”

And he said this about interest groups complaining about his Ex-Im cuts during his radio address on the Fiscal Year 1986 Budget (March 2, 1985), “I won’t deny all the groups I mentioned represent valid interests, which may seem compelling. But there is a larger interest to represent, more compelling and urgent than all the rest — the freedom and security of American taxpayers who must not only work, save, and invest to pull our economy forward but also pay all the bills for everything this government does.”

I can’t explain his 1984 letter in particular, except to note that politicians are always politicians. They cave under pressure of interest groups at times. But the bottom line with Reagan: One mild expression of support doesn’t detract from his clear opposition to the distortion-introducing bank.

Veronique de Rugy — Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Her primary research interests include the U.S. economy, the federal budget, homeland security, taxation, ...

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