The House has passed Rep. Stephen Fincher’s Ex-Im revival bill, by the margin of 313-118. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has publicly said the Senate will not act on the bill, so last night’s vote was more of a public statement than anything else. While the statement might be unpleasant, the public now has a much better idea of which Congressmen are pro-business, as opposed to pro-market—an important distinction. So at the very least, voters now have a better idea of who to hold accountable, and who they might support in primary elections.
With no stand-alone vote, Ex-Im reauthorization will instead be folded into an upcoming must-pass transportation bill. A Senate vote on that could happen as soon as next week.
Both parties share blame for Ex-Im’s possible revival. Nearly all Democrats voted in favor of reviving Ex-Im—a curious reversal of decades-long opposition. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) is the only one to stay consistent. Progressives have been Ex-Im’s traditional opponents, not just on corporate welfare grounds, but on human rights grounds—Ex-Im subsidizes many governments with checkered human rights records, and helps to keep them in power. See for example, this Mother Jones article from 1981, this one from 1992, and another from as recently as 2011, which is based on environmental grounds.
The GOP’s small pro-market wing began actively opposing Ex-Im in 2012, so Mother Jones therefore changed its stance around that time; see here and here. See also a thoughtful piece at Salon on this curious role reversal.
So Democrats deserve criticism for abandoning principle, seemingly for no reason other than to take the opposite stance from Republicans. “If you say X, therefore I say not X” is hardly a sign of intellectual rigor, but such is the nature of partisan politics.
But the goal here isn’t to pile shame on just one party. Both parties deserve it. The traditional pro-business Rockefeller Republican mindset—recall the famous slogan “what’s good for GM is good for America,” as well as a certain bailout from a few years ago—is the party’s traditional stance, and one for which it is often rightly criticized. Republicans are a major reason why Ex-Im was able to survive for more than 80 years, and Republicans are why it is on the brink of revival.
By the time Ex-Im’s 2012 reauthorization came up, a small GOP minority rejected pro-business thinking in favor of pro-market thinking. Rather than making sure to help GM or Boeing or some other specific business, their priority is to maintain an open competitive process under which any entrepreneur with a good idea and a good product can succeed.
These free-marketers raised a bit of a stink about Ex-Im, catching a sleepy Washington by surprise. Then the alarm went off, leading to a pitched intra-party fight that has been raging ever since, with major Ex-Im beneficiaries and traditional pro-business groups adding to the decibel level.
This culminated in the most recent Ex-Im vote. As mentioned above, Democrats deserve criticism for abandoning long-held principles on corporate welfare, international human rights, and clean government (Ex-Im is a well-known hotbed of corruption), seemingly for no reason other than to oppose the other party.
Republicans deserve criticism for their long-standing milquetoast pro-business mindset. Their pro-market minority deserves praise on the Ex-Im issue, but pro-market thinking sadly remains a minority stance in both parties. Hopefully Boeing’s aggressive lobbying push doesn’t have too much to do with it.
In fact, corporate welfare issues like the Export-Import Bank provide a wonderful opportunity for progressives and free-market-oriented conservatives to work together. So why aren’t they?
In politics, the minority party’s job is to deny the majority party any possible political victories, even when they agree. At least that’s my theory for Democrats’ sudden, and nearly uniform Ex-Im reversal.
But if members of both parties could put principle ahead of politics, then progressives and the GOP’s free-market wing, and hopefully some others, could very likely cobble together a majority on several issues on which they agree. They can change the country for the better, even as they continue to disagree on other issues. Ex-Im and OPIC could serve as starter issues. There are many more.
I conclude with a small public service: a list of all 127 Republicans who made a public statement by voting in favor of reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank: