Trump nominates two former congressmen to Ex-Im Bank board

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

WASHINGTON — The White House announced April 14 that President Donald Trump had nominated to the board of the Export-Import Bank two former members of Congress, one of them a staunch critic of the bank’s lending practices.

The nominees, if confirmed by the Senate, would restore a quorum to the board and allow it to resume approving deals valued at more than $10 million, including those for commercial satellites and launches.

In a statement issued late April 14, the White House announced that President Trump was nominating Scott Garrett, a former Republican congressman from New Jersey, to be president of the bank for a four-year term lasting until January 2021. He also nominated Spencer T. Bachus III, a former Republican congressman from Alabama, to fill another vacancy on the board until January 2019.

Garrett, who served six terms in the House of Representatives before losing reelection in 2016, was known as a critic of the bank while in Congress, dubbing its practices “crony capitalism.” “The proposal before us is the resurrection of a bank that embodies the corruption of the free enterprise system,” he said in a speech on the House floor in October 2015, opposing a bill to reauthorize the bank after its authorization lapsed that July.

Bachus, by contrast, was a supporter of Ex-Im during his 11 terms in the House, including two years as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, where he shepherded the passage of an earlier reauthorization bill in 2012. He retired from the House after the 2014 elections.

While the Ex-Im Bank was reauthorized in late 2015, a lack of a quorum on the board prevents the bank from approving deals valued at more than $10 million. Currently three of the board’s five seats are vacant. It’s not known when, or if, the president plans to nominate an individual to fill the third vacancy.

The nominations reflect a change in positions by the president regarding the Ex-Im Bank. During the campaign, Trump suggested the bank was no longer necessary. In February, President Trump made no mention of bank during a speech at a Boeing aircraft factory in South Carolina, despite suggestions he would discuss the bank’s future there. A day later, the New York Times reported that the bank was one of nine agencies being considered for closure by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

However, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal April 12, Trump said he now supported the bank and would seek to fill vacancies on the board. He noted that the bank helped small businesses as well as large ones, and that companies in other countries are aided by similar export credit agencies.

The Aerospace Industries Association, which has supported Ex-Im for its role in financing both aircraft and space deals, welcomed the nominations. It said in an April 15 statement that, because of the lapsed authorization and the lack of a quorum needed for larger deals, financing for satellite and launch deals dropped from nearly $1 billion in 2014 to $4 million in 2015.

“Ex-Im Bank support is critical for U.S. exporters in the aerospace and defense industry – both large companies and their small and medium suppliers,” the organization said in its statement. “With a level playing field, we can compete and win based on the quality of our products and services rather than financing.”

Commercial satellite manufacturers also reiterated their support for the bank in recent weeks. “It’s still critically needed,” Mark Spiwak, president of Boeing Satellite Systems International, said of Ex-Im at the Satellite 2017 conference in March. “We’ve lost several competitions and haven’t been a part of competitions because of the inability of customers to get Ex-Im. Customers that we have signed up recently have said we’ve found a way, but we still need Ex-Im.”

The nominations announced April 14 require Senate confirmation. The vacancies on the current board exist in part because the Senate failed to take up nominations made by the Obama administration in its last two years in office.

Trump Calls for an Immediate $1.2 Billion Cut to the National Institue of Health’s Budget

Budget Cuts

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump proposed an immediate $1.2 billion cut to the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) budget for this year. The measure seems to be part of Trump’s plan to work without an approved budget; as it stands, the president is working within the framework of a continuing resolution, which was assigned by Congress for the 2017 budget year (ending in October).

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The president has already proposed a vague budget plan for 2018 which outlines slashing funds for various science and health agencies — including a 20 percent cut on NIH funds. Congress’ December 2016 continuing resolution left the NIH with a $31.6 billion budget.

The NIH isn’t the only agency that might suffer from an immediate budget cut: the proposal also includes cutting a$350 million from the National Science Foundation’s $6.9 billion budget, cutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s research and development budget by $48 million, a $37 million cut to the Department of Energy’s science programs budget, and slashing the $101 million budget of the Teen Pregnancy Prevention program.

The Importance of Research

While approving an actual budget is up to Congress, the president is responsible for setting up a plan to be reviewed and approved by the House and Senate. Charles Kieffer, Democratic staff director on the Senate Appropriations Committee, told a panel at the Bipartisan Policy Center that Trump’s “focus is on cutting science programs. They are forcing these rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul decisions that will have consequences for a generation.”

One of the foremost responsibilities of the NIH is medical research. A 20 percent decrease — roughly $6 billion — in the NIH’s 2018 budget “would set the agency’s budget back 15 years, below its 2003 level,” wrote Michael White, a genetics professor at the Washington University in St. Louis. “Such a drastic cut would not just reduce the amount of science done by U.S. scientists — it would harm our scientific workforce and infrastructure in ways that would take years, if not decades, to recover from.”

Other experts agree: Clifford Hudis, CEO of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, thinks that “Cutting the funding in this way will have devastating and generation-long effects.” Speaking to NBC News, Hudis explained that “[medical research] is a fundamental driver of American economic strength and it is being compromised here. It’s a jobs program.”

That being said, there are many members of Congress in support of medical research. David Arons, CEO of the National Brain Tumor Society, said that they’re “grateful and encouraged” by the opposition of members of Congress to Trump’s 2018 budget plan. “It would be a tremendous disappointment if we backed away now from all the gains that have been made and all those that are within reach.”

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Elon Musk Is “Not Smiling” Over Trump’s New NASA Budget

“This Is Not It”

Today, President Trump signed legislation S.442, giving NASA more than $19.5 billion in funding as well as an ultimatum – get to Mars by 2033. Notably, NASA isn’t going to be dealing with the same cuts as other science and medical agencies (they are set to lose enormous portions of their budget).

This prompted Recode co-founder Kara Swisher to enthusiastically tweet at Musk, “Somewhere is smiling.” Musk, however, seemed anything but happy at the claim, responding: “I am not. This bill changes almost nothing about what NASA is doing. Existing programs stay in place and there is no added funding for Mars.”

He continued, “Perhaps there will be some future bill that makes a difference for Mars, but this is not it.”

Other experts tend to agree with this assesment—that this budget is not a great leap forward, but maintaining the status quo. “I think it’s really more of a vote for stability,” notes Scott Pace, who is the director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University.

Unlocking the Mysteries of Space

On the surface, this bill may seem promising. Trump has expressed support for a crewed exploration of Mars, and in his inauguration speech he said he’s “ready to unlock the mysteries of space.” The 146-page legislation document calls for several missions in addition to the following:

    • Journey to Mars — asks NASA for a roadmap to send people to Mars by 2033; also steers the space agency away from pursuing the Asteroid Redirect Mission (a plan to capture an asteroid, tow it into orbit around Earth, and have astronauts explore the space rock).
    • Aeronautics — calls on NASA to be a leader in aviation and hypersonic aircraft research; also asks the space agency to look into supersonic-aircraft research that would “open new global markets and enable new transportation capabilities.”
    • Radioisotope power systems — implores NASA to deliver a report on how it plans to make plutonium-238 — an exceedingly rare nuclear fuel for deep-space robots — and detail what its nuclear-powered exploration plans are.
    • Congressional declaration of policy and purpose — amends previous laws to make it part of NASA’s mission to “search for life’s origin, evolution, distribution, and future in the universe.”

However, in addition to not securing added funds for Mars, the Trump administration recently came under fire about the ways in which new budgets cut NASA’s Earth Science funds. According to

According to Business Insider, “if enacted, that budget would cut several major space agency initiatives, including the Office of Education, and seeks to terminate the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE), Orbital Carbon Observatory-3 (OCO-3), Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), and CLARREO Pathfinder missions.” Notably, all of these missions are directly related to Earth and its environment.

To this end, Musk—who is a strong advocate for the environment and renewable energy—has been taking some heat regarding his involvement with Trump’s science advisory board. In a 2015 speech at the Sorbonne University, he urged students to “talk to your politicians, ask them to enact a carbon tax” and to “fight the propaganda from the carbon industry.”

We’re running the most dangerous experiment in history.

And this was not his only call to action. At the end of the day, Musk is as much a proponent for the environment as he is for Mars. In a 2013 interview for USA Today’s Innovators and Icons series, Musk stated that the current climate struggle is literally life or death: “We’re running the most dangerous experiment in history right now, which is to see how much carbon dioxide the atmosphere can handle before there is an environmental catastrophe.”

It now seems that, despite Musk’s involvement with the Trump administration, even he cannot influence the White House in the ways he’d like…and he’s not happy.

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