You may have heard that one tangible bit of fallout from the defeat of Eric Cantor is that House GOP support for the Export-Import Bank–a big business mainstay that has drawn Tea Party ire as the epitome of “crony capitalism”–is in danger. New Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has come out against Ex-Im reauthorization, already under attack from Financial Services Committee chairman Jeb Hensarling.
The main hope for the survival of Ex-Im is House Democrats, backed by the Obama administration. So far Dems are pretty much falling into line to save the agency beloved of the Boeing Corporation (its most conspicuous beneficary over the years). But as David Dayen explains at Salon, Ex-Im used to be a regular punching bag for progressives, who objected to the Bank on pretty much the same “corporate welfare” grounds cited by the Tea Folk, notwithstanding their vastly different macroeconomic points of view.
[P]re-Internet liberals might want to get out their back issues of the Nation and Mother Jones at this point to jog their memory, for they will see article after article condemning the 80-year-old institution as a slush fund that allows the government to fund a series of nasty activities. Here’s one from 1981 (“The Ex-Im helps sell nuclear reactors to dictatorships like the Philippines”). Here’s another from 1992, about the Reagan administration using Ex-Im to funnel loans to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq during their war with Iran. Even more recently, in 2011, Mother Jones reported on how Ex-Im loan guarantees helped build one of the largest coal plants in the world, in South Africa. (Ex-Im subsequently announced it would stop facilitating coal plant production – but only in December of last year.)
Ex-Im wasn’t just a minor annoyance, but a lefty cause cÃ©lÃ©bre. Here’s Sen. Bernie Sanders, back when he served in the House, eviscerating Ex-Im on the floor in 2002, when it came up for reauthorization then. Sanders asked why American taxpayers would provide “huge subsidies and loans to the largest multinational corporations in the world, who pay their CEOs huge salaries … and companies take this money from the taxpayers and say, thank you very much, and oh by the way, we are laying you off because we are going to China and hiring somebody at 20 cents an hour….”
President Obama himself called Ex-Im “little more than a fund for corporate welfare” while on the 2008 campaign trail. When George W. Bush was in the White House, Democrats excoriated Ex-Im as an example of wealthy corporations feeding on government subsidies.
So have Democrats simply turned their coats on Ex-Im, as Dayen suggests (“the bank hasn’t changed; the perception of it has”)?
There is one way to find out. As Dayen notes, Bernie Sanders once offered legislation to reform how Ex-Im operates:
Sanders crafted bipartisan legislation to reform Ex-Im to better protect manufacturing workers, but the bill’s markup got canceled at the last minute. “My suspicion is that the moneyed interests who like the Export-Import Bank as it is right now sent down the word from the top that that markup never take place,” he told his House colleagues.
Perhaps Democrats can use their new leverage with Ex-Im to make some positive changes, eh?