Politics vs. Principle: Export-Import Bank Edition

On the merits, the case for closing the Export-Import Bank is a slam-dunk. This has made life difficult for the bank’s supporters, especially since the bank will permanently close on June 30 unless Congress reauthorizes its charter. So they are switching to politics.

One of the top items on Congress’ agenda is Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which despite some drawbacks, would make international trade a little freer than it is now. Seeing a point of entry, Ex-Im supporters tried to tie Ex-Im reauthorization into the TPA bill. This way, a Senator who opposes Ex-Im might have to hold his nose and vote for it anyway, since it would be part of the larger TPA bill he supports.

This attempt was rebuffed, and a clean TPA bill is poised to pass the Senate. But Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), both coincidentally from major Ex-Im beneficiary Boeing’s home state, did exact a promise from Senate leadership: the Senate will soon hold a separate vote on Ex-Im reauthorization. This is important, since Ex-Im will close if Congress does nothing.

Since Ex-Im reauthorization is likely to pass the Senate, the political focus moves to the House. Sen. Cantwell tried to get Speaker Boehner to promise to hold a House Ex-Im vote, but he refused. But nor will he get in the way of a vote if members of his own chamber decide to bring one up.

At least 90 House members oppose Ex-Im reauthorization, according to Heritage Action. The Republican Study Committee (RSC) announced its opposition to Ex-Im reauthorization, though not all RSC members share that stance, most notably Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.), who is sponsoring an Ex-Im reauthorization bill. Despite this substantial groundswell, a House majority is 218 members, and it remains to be seen if enough other members will stand firm in opposing the bank.

So that’s where the issue stands right now. The merits of Ex-Im were decided long ago—despite affecting less than 2 percent of U.S. exports, the agency has still managed to divert billions of dollars of capital away from deserving businesses, subsidize U.S. firms’ foreign competitors, and cause dozens of corruption cases. Now the question becomes whether politics are stronger than principle. Either way, Congress’ pending answer will be revealing.