Tim Keating, Boeing’s chief political operator in the halls of Congress, this week is frequenting the company chalet at the Farnborough Air Show and the related aviation industry dinners and receptions in central London.
He’s offering reassurance to Boeing’s foreign airline customers, some of whom are worried that the controversy in Congress around the Export-Import Bank could end the financing they need to buy jets. And he’s hosting the many U.S. political delegations here as part of Boeing’s intense lobbying effort to save the bank, whose authority to operate expires in September.
In an interview at the Air Show, Keating sharply blamed the Tea Party movement within the Republican party for the current impasse.
His message to the visiting U.S. politicians is to listen to their own stump speeches, where a constant refrain is: “We want to grow jobs in the U.S. We want to grow manufacturing in the U.S.”
“We are what America should be: manufactured here and sold overseas,” Keating said of Boeing.
He warned that killing the Ex-Im Bank “is a policy that would actually punish companies that choose to build in the United States.”
The U.S. Export-Import Bank promotes American exports by providing loans or loan guarantees to foreign companies so they can buy U.S. goods. Congressional Republicans have been balking at reauthorizing it.
Similar export credit agencies exist to support exports in most western countries, including those in Europe.
Last year, the bank provided $8 billion worth of loans or loan guarantees to foreign airlines so they could buy Boeing jets. Airbus taps Europe’s three major export credit agencies for similar backstop financing for its customers.
Jeff Knittel, chief executive of major airplane lessor CIT, who announced major orders from both manufacturers at Farnborough this week, said in an interview that “the worst thing that could happen is for the Ex-Im Bank to go away and the European export credit agencies to still be in business.”
“That would put Boeing at a competitive disadvantage,” he said. “It’s very clear.”
Knittel said financing is cheap and easily available today but that the Bank is needed as security in case an economic downturn squeezes the commercial capital markets and makes loans harder to come by.
John Wojick, Boeing’s head of jet sales, said “commercial markets can run into difficulties.”
“It was very critical to us in 2008 and 2009 to have support from other (financing) sources, like the Ex-Im Bank, to support deliveries.”
Boeing’s airplane deliveries, and hence the work of its Puget Sound-area employees, continued largely unchecked by that downturn.
Keating is Boeing’s senior vice president of Government Operations, essentially head of the company’s extensive lobbying arm in Washington, D.C.
A consummate political insider, he served the Clinton Administration as special assistant to the President and staff director for White House Legislative Affairs.
He also played the lead role last November in negotiating with the Machinists union and with Gov. Jay Inslee over the terms of the deal that brought the 777X to Washington state.
Keating plays hardball. When the initial Machinist vote went against Boeing last November, it was Keating who opened up the competition immediately to other states.
“That was me,” Keating said. “I went and visited 22 states and Governors, met with them personally. … The night the initial vote went down, I was in Seattle. I went back to my hotel room and packed. At 7 a.m., I was on a plane and I visited three states that next day.”
Now that same intensity is turned toward rescuing the Ex-Im Bank from political oblivion.
Keating said that in recent months he has personally talked to “almost every member of Congress” on the subject of Ex-Im and he’s optimistic it will be re-authorized before its charter expires in September.
“I believe the votes are there,” he said. “The vast majority want to support it.”
He said three quarters of the Senate, all the Democrats in the House, and more than 100 Republican House represenatives have voted for the Bank in the past and likely still support it.
Keating sees the influence of the Tea Party movement within the Republican Party as the problem.
“We’re not certain the Tea Party segment (of the GOP) is that pro-business any more,” Keating said. “They are more libertarian than they are Republican.”
Of all the major U.S. companies, Delta Air Lines alone has been vocally opposing the Ex-Im Bank re-authorization. Delta CEO Richard Anderson has railed against the fact that rival international carriers like Air India and Emirates get Ex-Im financing to buy their jets, whille Delta does not.
“When you have our U.S. government … taking U.S. taxpayer money and heavily subsidizing a foreign government to operate an airline here, that’s just not right,” Anderson said in a recent interview.
But Keating said Delta has made use of export credit financing itself: In 2012, the Canadian government’s export credit agency provided between $450 million and $900 million to Delta for the purchase of 40 Bombardier regional jets.
In any case, he said, if Ex-Im goes away, rivals like Air India and Emirates will still get export credit financing from the European agencies.
“Delta will still have competitors,” Keating said. “The only difference is, the competition will be flying Airbus aircraft instead of Boeing aircraft.”