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Republicans vote to block Boeing from selling airplanes to Iran

Written by on November 18, 2016

Iran Air 747 second pic

North Carolina Republicans in Congress, looking to stymie a key part of the Iran nuclear deal, voted to to keep U.S. banks and tax money from financing airplane exports to Iran from Boeing Co. – one of the world’s largest aircraft manufacturers and a prolific donor to political campaigns.

 A majority in the U.S. House on Wednesday passed a bill aimed at blocking Boeing’s intended sale of 80 commercial airplanes to Iran Air, the government-run airline. The vote, 243-174, fell mostly along party lines with all 10 Republican House members from North Carolina supporting the legislation.

President Barack Obama has said he will veto the measure, if the Senate also approves the bill.

Part of the bill would prohibit Boeing and other U.S. companies from using the government-supported Export-Import Bank to facilitate trade with Iran – something that’s already barred because of the federal government’s designation of Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism.

The proposed legislation would take current export restrictions further by prohibiting private banks from lending money for planes headed to Iran. The Export-Import Bank is a government credit agency designed to insure and finance U.S. exports.

Democrats argued such a move to limit legal exports undercuts the United States’ contractual obligations under the Iran nuclear deal, which eased economic sanctions to allow commercial aircraft exports. All three Democratic members from North Carolina – Reps. Alma Adams, G.K. Butterfield and David Price – opposed the Republican-written bill.

In South Carolina, home to a major Boeing manufacturing enterprise, all six Republican House members voted for the bill. The state’s sole Democrat in Congress, U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, voted against the legislation.

Western North Carolina U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, a Republican from Cashiers, said the United States shouldn’t promote Iran’s economic development at a time when that nation’s leaders aren’t holding up their end of the nuclear deal.

“When they’re in violation of the deal that we negotiated in good faith, it would not be a prudent move on our part,” he said, adding that Iranian government officials should immediately rectify violations or the U.S. should “tear up the agreement and start over.”

Butterfield said Republicans shouldn’t devalue the Export-Import Bank’s overall benefit to the U.S. and international economy to facilitate trade. He said he supported Obama’s leadership on the Iran nuclear deal “with reservations” but saw the agreement as positive because it will contain Iran’s nuclear arsenal.

Chapel Hill-area Rep. David Price, a Democrat, warned the Republicans’ proposal could give Iran grounds to walk away from the deal.

In a speech late Wednesday on the House floor, Price said, “It appears that our Republican colleagues are willing to jeopardize a major international agreement for political advantages … Instead of scoring political points, or seeking to undo President Obama’s foreign policy legacy on his way out the door, we should be working together in a bipartisan manner to ensure the agreement’s success.”

The House bill, if it becomes law, would directly affect U.S. aircraft companies’ ability to begin exporting to Iran under the newly eased sanctions. Supporters of the bill say they worry Iranian officials will misuse the Boeing planes to ship fighters and weapons to Syria to aid the Islamic State – something Iran has been sanctioned for in the past.

Charlotte-area Rep. Robert Pittenger, a Republican, said after the vote in a statement: “This bill confronts the same airline that has been sanctioned by the Treasury Department for transporting fighters and weapons on behalf of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. It is beyond me how the administration can be OK with allowing Iran access to airplanes which would only further their support of terrorism.”

The U.S. Treasury, under Obama’s administration, has already given Boeing and another company, Airbus, permission to export planes to Iran. But, company officials have said they won’t use the taxpayer-backed Export-Import Bank to finance the deal.

Those opposed to hampering Boeing’s deal say the proposed legislation would put U.S. companies at a global disadvantage as the sanctions relief has opened up new lines of trade and financing for Iran to buy airplanes elsewhere.

Republicans’ opposition to U.S. assistance for Boeing to sell planes to Iran means House members are defying one of the biggest lobbying and campaign spenders in Washington. Boeing was the No. 3 top spender on lobbying last year – shelling out nearly $21.9 million to influence policy, according to a report earlier this year by CQ Roll Call, a news organization that covers Congress.

The company’s political action committee is also one of the most prolific donors to lawmakers’ campaigns and has contributed equally to North Carolina Democrats and Republicans over the past six years. Boeing’s PAC has donated about $112,000 total in that time to North Carolina U.S. House members.

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