Congress has returned to Washington after a 5 week hiatus to deal pressing problems facing the nation both here at home and abroad. Unfortunately, the definition of what constitutes a pressing issue is often different in Washington’s marbled halls than in Main Street America. In no case is that more clear than with the last minute extension of the controversial Export-Import Bank.
The Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) is an 80 year old New Deal relic that could only have been dreamed up in Washington. The banks sole purpose is to provide taxpayer backed government loans to foreign companies in the hopes that these subsidies will promote the sale of American products. In reality however, the bank has become little more than a fund for corporate welfare, dispensing taxpayer dollars to some of the largest corporations both at home and abroad. Furthermore the bank does nothing more than pick winners and losers in the marketplace by doling out taxpayer funding to favored corporations.
Congress had a golden opportunity to pull the plug on this longstanding institution of corporate cronyism and purveyor of overseas handouts at the end of this month. Unfortunately, however, the bank’s allies on Capitol Hill managed to keep the bank on life support, at least for a few more months by attaching it to a “must pass” stopgap measure that keeps the government running until after the election. Rather than let rank-and-file lawmakers debate the future of the bank on its merits, supporters of the bank threatened a government shutdown if their big business allies were cut off from taxpayer funds.
There is, however, a silver lining to this dark corporate cloud. Rather than passing a standard five or six year extension of the bank’s life or pushing the debate into a “lame duck” session of congress where defeated lawmakers could fast-track such an extension, the Ex-Im Bank has instead only been kept on life support with a short-term extension until next summer. That means the future of the bank will be debated by the new congress set to reconvene next January, allowing for a robust debate over Ex-Im as part of a stand-alone measure, and a straight up and down vote on reauthorization.
Ex-Im’s special interest supporters are no doubt hoping that by June, the American public will forget all about the many problems with this scandal-plagued bank. This would allow Ex-Im to slip back into the shadows and continue to dole out lucrative taxpayer backed loans to huge corporations in places like Russia and China. But given the renewed focus on the bank’s shady dealing over the last several months that outcome seems unlikely. When it comes time to reauthorize the bank in a few short months, many lawmakers will likely think twice about putting the desires of big business and well-connected foreign companies before those of everyday Americans.