By Charles H. Green
Ok, so my headline today is a combination of news of the day and a prediction of the future. Congress has in fact recessed for the July 4th holiday and will not return into session until afterwards, so the EX-M Bank charter will expire at midnight tonight (June 30th). No lightning storm, best intentions or even the Supreme Court will change that fact now.
But mark my words, the EX-IM Bank will rise from its brief place in the ashes and be reinstated, with full authority retroactively granted. House Financial Services Committee chair Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), the leader to kill the EX-IM Bank, may be relishing this victory for the moment, but the larger truth is that the Republican Party is at war with itself over this issue.
And once again, as with the budget, deficit ceiling, and trade policy, this fight boils down to traditional, business-oriented establishment Republicans and the newer, insurgent Tea-Party members, whose rise to power has been fueled by mostly libertarian interests.
Why am I so sure the Establishment will win and the EX-IM Bank resumes its normal operations? One word: jobs.
The trouble with the extreme right-wing of the Republican majority is as old as the party itself. While Democrats over time have largely viewed their party as a big tent, with room for everyone’s interest, their inevitable conflicts were usually settled behind doors in smoke-filled rooms. Republicans consider themselves “principled,” but really have been more about interests representing the status quo. They have always felt safe excluding plenty of people, so long as nothing disrupted ‘business as usual,’ especially big business.
Don’t believe me? Listen to the business community’s interest in most social issues, such as civil rights, gay marriage and religious ‘freedom.’ They want no part of the divisiveness brought on through the discrimination promulgated by those who tell others how to live their personal lives.
But with conservative politicians, there are a lot of differing ideas as to what “conservative” really means, and which notion of ‘conservative’ is the correct one. The Tea Party arose through the amalgamation of many narrow interests, each of which individually were actually misaligned with a majority of the Grand Old Party, such as the ‘limited government’ crowd, fundamentalist Christians, libertarians, and social bigots.
While none of these extreme ideals were necessarily strangers to the GOP, they were tolerated to build a majority for the Establishment, who viewed big business as boss. Read “American Theocracy” by Kevin Phillips for an unadulterated description of how these interests convalesced into the Republican Party. And Phillips should know–it was his idea in support of electing Richard Nixon.
While the numbers and fervor of the Tea Party were welcome, their ideological extreme views and tactics have upset business as usual in Congress, and has disrupted previously non-controversial tools of governing that both parties cooperated on in order to run the country. Like what? The debt ceiling, the Highway Trust Fund, flood insurance, the military-industrial complex, trade policy and many other mundane agencies, policies and practices that were rubber stamped for decades. Count the EX-IM Bank in that list.
The reality? Our federal government was founded for business, and it is in the business of protecting, promoting and promulgating business. Many of the original colonies had no interest in a central government, but knew that the collective force of the colonies were needed to establish a safe environment to conduct business. Think of trading with other countries, fighting pirates to protect trade vessels, guard ports, issue patents and provide courts to settle disputes between merchants from different colonies. The federal government’s operations were originally financed with tariffs on imported goods.
The extreme right’s interpretation of the Constitution generally reads that our government should be limited to what’s described in it verbatim. That’s nice philosophy, but a more pragmatic view might acknowledge that 1) most Americans disagree in thousands of unique instances; 2) we wouldn’t have microwave ovens or the internet were that ever strictly adhered to, nor entered WWI, WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War, etc.; and 3) for over two centuries, the ‘cat’s out of the bag’ as to that line of reasoning.
With the EX-IM Bank, there’s a more compelling, if pragmatic, case to make: trade competitors in every major developed economy in the world provide export financing for their manufacturing sector, including China, whose financing over the past two years exceeded our EX–IM Bank’s total volume over the last 80 years.
Hence, the Establishment Republicans will have to push back others in their caucus to reverse the lapse of the EX-IM Bank charter in the face of what big business wants–led by a coalition of more than 46 business trade associations–who finance many Republican campaigns and have a strong interest in the robust availability of export financing.
Said one conservative standard bearer (and presidential candidate), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), “Conservatives have declared war on the EX-IM Bank: It’s been ideologically ‘unpure.’ But until you get the Chinese, the Germans and the French out of the EX-IM business, I’m not going to unilaterally disarm.”
What do you think? Comment on this page or write me at Director@SBFI.org.