The Independents

Mike Lee: End the Ex-Im Bank Because of Crony Capitalism! But Don't Cut Military Spending

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One of these two senators wants to cut military spending. |||

On Tuesday, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), one of the more libertarian-leaning members of the World's Greatest Deliberative Body, went on The Independents to talk about his refreshing call to end, rather than mend, the Export-Import Bank, because Ex-Im is a leading contributor to crony capitalism. I wanted to follow up on this odd-sounding passage in his National Review piece on same:

Whether the beneficiaries of particular Ex-Im Bank loan guarantees are respected, successful companies like Boeing or crony basket cases like Solyndra is irrelevant. Twisting policy to benefit any business at the expense of others is unfair and anti-growth.

The plane! The plane! |||

Lavishing praise on one company while disparaging another seems like an odd way to stress the across-the-board awfulness of crony capitalism, particularly given the centrality of Boeing to the Ex-Im story. Here's Reason columnist Veronique de Rugy, in a must-bookmark column from last September titled "Bipartisan Corporate Welfare: It's time for the Export-Import bank to go":

Back in 1981, when he was fighting to get rid of the Ex-Im Bank, [former budget director David] Stockman documented that it bestowed about two-thirds of its subsidies on a handful of giant, profitable manufacturers: Boeing, General Electric, Westinghouse, and the like. Little has changed since then, and what has changed has mostly been for the worse. 

Ex-Im's own data show that bank activity is highly concentrated in a few industries—primarily aviation, gas and oil exploration, and manufacturing. The aircraft industry alone benefited from $11.5 billion worth of loan guarantees in 2012. 

Boeing was the recipient of almost 50 Ex-Im Bank deals worth $12.2 billion (including insurance, loans, and guarantees). This one company, with its army of lobbyists, brought in roughly 80 percent of Ex-Im's loan guarantees. 

"Respected," "successful," or not, Boeing is America's number-one welfare queen. In my opinion, as long as military spending keeps shooting through the roof (up 80 percent in real terms between 2001 and 2012), crony defense capitalism is inevitable, and an exponentially larger problem than Solyndra. So I asked Mike Lee about halfway through this clip whether he would cut military spending. And he said no:

Note, too, Lee's answer to Kmele Foster's question about whether he regrets his role in last fall's strategically incompetent (IMO) government shut-down.

As Nick Gillespie has argued, willingness to cut military spending is a "real test to see if…Republicans are serious about making any cuts in government spending." There's a lot to like about Mike Lee, at least compared the median senator, but it's telling that one of the best exemplars of the Tea Party/limited government wave of hardcore fiscal conservatives cannot—even in the course of rightly decrying Boeing's crony capitalism!—bring himself to cut even one penny from the behemoth, wasteful, and corrupting military-industrial complex. 

Reason on Mike Lee here.