The Export-Import Bank Bill Exposes the DC vs. America Divide

Tom Borelli
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Posted: Jul 23, 2014 12:01 AM
The Export-Import Bank Bill Exposes the DC vs. America Divide

The current political battle over the bill to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank reveals the immense influence the big business lobby has over both political parties. It also explains why this special interest group has declared war on the Tea Party.

Big business political influence boils down to financial support for any politician who is willing to bestow huge benefits on certain companies. The Export-Import Bank is a prime example.

The Export-Import Bank boosts sales of U.S. multinational corporations by providing government-backed loans, loan guarantees and other credit mechanisms to countries and international companies around the world. The bank is a classic example of the transfer of wealth from taxpayers to big business, funneled through the government.

What’s fascinating about this issue is not that big business is wielding special influence to line its pockets with taxpayer dollars — nothing new there. The intriguing aspect of the Export-Import Bank is how the ideological divide between the warring establishment Republicans and Democrats evaporates when it comes to funding corporate welfare.

Negotiations surrounding the Export-Import Bank legislation offer a great example of normally opposing ideological forces casting aside hardened policy positions. It’s the D.C. insiders in action.

In contrast to contentious topics such as Obamacare, where the political parties engaged in a Texas Death match against one another, bailing out big business is an issue for bipartisan hand-holding and singing “Kumbaya.”

In reality, keeping the federal government big, willing and able to dole out monetary favors is the business of the leadership in both parties.

Even with an issue such as climate change, the left’s concerns over environmental catastrophe caused by coal-fired power plants are put on hold in order to contemplate ways to push the Export-Import Bank bill over the goal line.

When coal-state Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announced plans to introduce an amendment to the Export-Import Bank reauthorization bill to reverse a restriction on coal-fired power plants, climate change champion Sen. Barbara Boxer’s (D-Calif.) reaction was muted.

Boxer initially said, "I don't support it. But I don't know whether it's even relevant or matters."

After flirting with Manchin’s idea for a week, Boxer is reversing course, saying she will fight approval of the coal provision.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who has long been outspoken in his opposition to coal power, will ultimately be the dealmaker regarding rolling back the coal plant restriction. Despite his ideology, he is now trying to play peacemaker between Manchin and anti-coal Democrats.

Unsurprisingly, money is behind the Democrats trying to save the Export-Import Bank by any means necessary. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is funded by the bank’s beneficiaries such as General Electric, Boeing and Caterpillar, is in overdrive trying to save the corporate handouts. Those potential dollars have not escaped the notice of ever-cunning Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who is trying to take advantage of the tension between the Tea Party and big business.

A story in the National Journal, “Senate Democrats Try to Win Big Business by Exploiting the GOP Split on the Ex-Im Bank,” discussed Democrats’ attempts to lure Chamber money, including a comment by Schumer that emphasized his cozying up to the trade group: "I've said this to [Chamber President] Tom Donohue and others: In many ways mainstream Democrats are closer to you than many Republicans because the Tea Party has pulled them so far to the right."

Tea party-backed candidates are a threat to big government giveaways such as the Export-Import Bank. That’s the reason the Chamber, along with former Congressman Steve LaTourette’s Main Street Advocacy PAC, is fronting big business’ attacks against grassroots candidates in Republican primaries.

Principled, limited-government politicians are big business’ worst nightmare. That’s why these groups supported Republican incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran over his tea party-backed rival in the Mississippi primary.

Main Street Advocacy spent $100,000 supporting Cochran, and the Chamber also put in $100,000 to keep big-spending Cochran in the Senate.

It’s highly doubtful that Obama’s detest for coal would permit Manchin to get the minor victory of allowing government-funded coal power. Environmental groups are mobilizing to fight the provision, and funding coal could alienate mega-donor and billionaire climate change advocate Tom Steyer.

Regardless of the outcome, the fight over the Export-Import Bank illustrates the blurred lines between the traditional party labels and political alliances.

The battle for limited government is now between the Tea Party and the entrenched D.C. insiders, comprised of both Republicans and Democrats supported by the big business establishment.