The Corner

The White House Is Flexing Its Crony Muscles

In one the biggest flip-flops of the last eight years, President Obama has gone from calling the Export-Import Bank “little more than a fund for corporate welfare” to being one of its biggest cheerleaders. The White House’s latest move to restore the Ex-Im Bank’s full lending authority is to demand that the law be changed (to allow the agency to approve loans over $10 million without having to comply with the necessary three-board-member quorum requirement) and included in a must-pass bill. That’s right, after using its propaganda machine last summer and fall to get Ex-Im reauthorized, the White House is now circulating a list of items it would like to see in the next continuing resolution including:

The White House further wants to address a controversy that has stymied the work of the Export-Import Bank. Senate Republicans have refused to fill a vacancy on the bank’s board, leaving the bank without the quorum of three board members required to approve transactions of more than $10 million.

The administration wants language in the CR to amend the bank’s statutory requirement that its board have a quorum to take any action. While Congress reauthorized the bank in a year-end omnibus appropriations act in 2015, the bank’s operations have been significantly hampered and a number of U.S. companies have moved overseas as a result, the OMB request said.

So basically, since some lawmakers have been unable to use the regular process to restore the full lending authority of the bank, the White House wants to change the law to go around the process.

In doing so, it is following in the steps of others crony-friendly lawmakers, such as Representative Charlie Dent (R, Penn.), who have resorted to good old shenanigans to slip an amendment into an unrelated appropriations bill to change the rules of the bank’s quorum requirement, loosening an important check on corporate welfare. Never mind that Speaker Ryan had promised a few weeks before that, under his watch, this type of thing wouldn’t happen anymore.

What will Ryan do? We don’t know yet. But whatever he does will go a long way toward signaling how committed he is — or not — to free-markets as opposed to cronyism.

Finally, I would like to point to the laughable claim that “a number of U.S companies have moved overseas as a result” of our victory again cronyism. What’s the word for “misleading on steroids”? Seriously, the only company that alleged it was forced to move overseas as a result of the Ex-Im is GE. However, all its claims about why it was moving a factory to Canada and doing even more business in France than it already was were shown, repeatedly, to be totally unrelated to Ex-Im. Even when Ex-Im was alive and kicking, GE had more jobs abroad than in the U.S. And don’t forget: Boeing’s threats to move abroad were empty, too.

Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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