Politico, the Daily Signal, and others are reporting that House Republicans are now considering a short-term extension of the Export-Import Bank’s authorization, to put the issue off until after the election. Staunch opponents of extending the bank’s charter, like Jim Jordan and Jeb Henserling, appear to be involved in the talks about such a move. It’s not hard to see why House leaders would want to put this off, but the details matter a lot. The Daily Signal, for instance, notes that:
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, confirmed there was talk of a deal that would reauthorize the bank and allow Congress to revisit the issue either after the November elections or early in the next Congress.
Those two options are very, very different. Moving the vote on the Ex-Im bank’s future into a lame duck session would make it much more likely that the leadership could push through a longer-term reauthorization and persuade members that there won’t be serious consequences. Holding that vote early in the next congress, on the other hand, could make it a test of the GOP’s commitment to genuinely take on cronyism and corporate welfare and show the public that they do not share the Democrats’ vision of a corporatist America in which big government and big business (and what’s left of big labor) run the economy together. It would be especially important if Republicans manage to take the Senate, but it would matter a lot either way.
Obviously, the Ex-Im bank is nowhere near the worst example of corporate welfare and cronyism in federal policy. But it is, as Jeb Henserling (chairman of the committee with jurisdiction over the bank) has said, “a poster child” for both. If Republicans can’t end such an obvious example of taxpayer-funded corporate giveaways, it’s hard to imagine how they could take on bigger and more politically complex instances. And if they can’t even make the case for cutting corporate welfare, how can they make the case for reducing federal spending in other areas?
It would be better, of course, if Republicans refused to renew the bank’s charter now, and actually offered voters an argument about the nature of our economy and the dangers of cronyist corporatism. But evidently congressional Republicans have decided they can win November’s elections by stealth; maybe if voters temporarily forget they exist, they’ll just vote against the Democrats. Democrats are basically trying the same strategy (and the Senate under Harry Reid has been run this way for years). One party will do better than the other in November and conclude that the strategy worked. It’s both unseemly and unwise. But if this is how it has to be, then at the very least the opponents of the Ex-Im Bank should try to frame the question of the bank’s future in a way that will help them move the party in the right direction in the next Congress.
That means insisting that the vote happen next year and not in a lame-duck session. It also means insisting that it not be tied to the expiration of a continuing resolution, the debt ceiling, or any other fiscal deadline. They should agree to a short-term delay on the condition that they will get a freestanding up-or-down vote in the first year of the next congress. And they should use the intervening months to make their case.