U.S. Export-Import Bank. Credit: House Minority Whip

WASHINGTON — Senators voted overwhelmingly to confirm three nominees for the board of the Export-Import Bank May 8, giving the bank the ability to approve large deals, including for the space industry, for the first time in years.

In a series of votes, senators confirmed the nomination of Kimberly Reed to be president of the Ex-Im Bank by a margin of 79–17, Spencer Bachus III to be a member of the board by a margin of 72–22 and Judith DelZoppo Pryor to be another member of the board on a 77–19 vote. The confirmation votes came after senators voted May 7 to invoke cloture on the three nominations, also by large margins, to conclude debate on the nominations.

The confirmations mean that the Ex-Im Bank will have a quorum of three members on its five-person board for the first time since the bank’s charter was reauthorized in late 2015. Without a quorum the board was unable to approve financing of deals valued at larger than $10 million.

The aerospace industry in particular had sought to confirm the nominations so that the bank could again provide financing for the export of its industry’s products, including commercial satellites and launches. The bank had played a role in financing several such satellite and launch deals earlier in the decade before a congressional dispute about the bank’s role led to a lapse in its authorization for five months in 2015. Companies later reported losing potential satellite sales to foreign manufacturers who were able to offer financing through their countries’ export credit agencies.

“The Senate’s action today is welcome news to the aerospace industry and to all American manufacturers selling products internationally,” said Dan Dumbacher, executive director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, one of several industry groups that had advocated for restoring the bank’s board. He argued in a statement that the inability of the bank to finance large deals was “placing U.S. aerospace companies at a tremendous disadvantage when competing in the global market.”

“The Senate confirmations are one small step for the Export-Import Bank and one giant leap for American competitiveness and job creation,” said Mike Gold, vice president of Maxar Technologies, which manufactures commercial satellites.

Critics of Ex-Im have argued that it skewed the market in favor of large corporations, in particular Boeing and sales of its aircraft. “When Ex-Im financing was at its peak, Boeing received 70 percent of all Export-Import Bank loan guarantees and 40 percent of all Ex-Im dollars,” said Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) during debate about the nominations May 7.

Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, backed the nominations and argued that, by keeping the board vacant, opponents of Ex-Im had hindered implementation of reforms of the bank called for in its 2015 reauthorizaiton.

“I support reforms, too, and look forward to working with interested colleagues, but we need to understand that we will need a quorum on the Ex-Im Bank to finalize them,” he said during the May 7 debate.

The confirmation of the three board members does not end debate about Ex-Im’s future. The bank’s current authorization expires at the end of September, and its advocates are already gearing up for another congressional battle to reauthorize it.

“The next step to send a clear signal that America is serious about competing in the global marketplace is for Congress to begin work on a long-term authorization for the bank,” Eric Fanning, president and chief executive of the Aerospace Industries Association, said in a statement after the confirmation of the board members. “American exporters will once again be fighting an uphill battle if Congress fails to pass a reauthorization bill.”

“While restoring a quorum is vital and I applaud the Senate’s actions,” Gold said, “industry and congressional leadership need to maintain a focus on this issue to ensure that the Export-Import Bank is successfully reauthorized by the end of September.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...