Only an Unprincipled Congress Would Revive the Ex-Im Bank

Fight over the crony-capitalist program highlights all that's wrong with Washington



Those who take a principled stand in our nation's capital often find themselves alone with the crickets. Unless you're the latest cause celebre of the left (see Sen. Elizabeth Warren), taking a stand against business-as-usual big government on Capitol Hill typically means being labeled a radical extremist who is out of touch with the rest of the country. Look no further than the "far-right extremists" in the House who were voted into power several years ago, thanks in large part to the tea party movement, which recognized—albeit imperfectly—that the federal government needs to be corralled before it goes awry.

The so-called extremists who make up the House Freedom Caucus have become a major thorn in the side of their establishment colleagues; just ask the outgoing House speaker, John Boehner. And as House Republicans struggle to find a replacement for Boehner, the drumbeat for the members of the House Freedom Caucus to "know their place" is growing in intensity. But for all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over these obstinate conservatives, the fact is that their existence and influence are proof that a segment of the GOP base has tired of the party leadership's capitulations to Democrats in the empty name of demonstrating that Republicans can "govern."

As the saying goes, when you don't stand for something, you stand for nothing. Indeed, the absence of a pro-free market agenda from party leaders—even if just to show people that Republicans actually stand for something other than being anti-Obama—has been glaring. The sad truth is that most Republicans either don't really believe in free markets or are perfectly willing to jettison their beliefs if it means pleasing the special interests and other members of the big-government status quo.

The fight over the Export-Import Bank of the United States—a New Deal relic that until recently bestowed government privileges on powerful corporations and banks at the expense of the broader economy—is a perfect example. Thanks to House Freedom Caucus members and other congressional Republicans who were willing to take a principled stand against this odious form of government-granted privilege, Ex-Im died this past summer when its congressional accomplices failed to get it reauthorized. Those accomplices haven't given up on restarting the agency, however, and media reports indicate that Republican leaders in the House and Senate would be fine with doing so if it helped wrap up business on Capitol Hill for the year so the party could focus on putting a Republican in the White House in 2016.

Astoundingly, but not surprisingly, media accounts of the ongoing Ex-Im drama have portrayed the agency's principled detractors as reckless ideologues. Contrast that with the kid-glove treatment received by Ex-Im apologists, which include almost all Democrats. Shouldn't there be a bit more scrutiny of the members of a political party that is lamenting the undue influence of corporations on one hand while shilling for a corporatist agenda on the other?

Then there are the House Republicans who are actively working with Democrats to save Ex-Im. Led by Tennessee Republican Stephen Fincher, 42 Republicans last week joined 170 Democrats in moving to force the House to vote on bringing back Ex-Im by employing a rarely used procedural motion called a discharge petition. As Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), Ex-Im's most prominent opponent in the House, noted in a press release, "signing a discharge petition puts the minority in charge and effectively makes Nancy Pelosi the Speaker of the House."

Unfortunately, the Ex-Im Bank won't be the only area where Democrats will get their way with the help of Republicans. In the next few months, we are likely to see a budget deal that blows through defense and nondefense budget caps, an increase in the debt ceiling without any offsets, a highway bill full of special interest perks that's far from paid for, and a generalized lack of commitment to fiscal responsibility. So much for the best-laid schemes of crickets and congressmen.