The fight over the reauthorization of the obscure Export-Import Bank is the perfect opportunity for Democrats to take advantage of the growing rift in the Republican Party. This is a chance for liberals to let the two wings of the GOP cannibalize each other.
First, the facts about the Ex-Im Bank. It is arguably the most "Republican" of government agencies. Basically, it supports businesses that want to export goods.
The Ex-Im works in a way that nearly all other countries do, with lending and insurance services that fill the relatively small gaps left by the private financial services firms. The bank turns a profit and represents the broad consensus in this country that, one, exports help create jobs, and, two, helping companies compete in the global marketplace is better than fighting protectionist trade wars. The companies that turn to the Ex-Im for help are frequently either from Red States or run by the same conservative executives and boards of directors that decry high taxes, overbearing government, and uncertain regulations. Because of this, the biggest cheerleaders for the Ex-Im Bank are the classic old-school Republican types.
Considering the Ex-Im Bank's relatively simple functions and natural GOP appeal, one might think it would be uncontroversial. However, the bank is in danger of not having its charter reauthorized before its present enabling legislation expires on Sept. 30.
This is a big deal if you are one of the companies and workers who have benefited from the bank or are counting on its services to sell your crops or your airplane. And there are a lot of them. Since 2009, the Ex-Im Bank has supported over 1.2 million private-sector jobs and financed more than $188 billion worth of exports.
Keeping the Ex-Im Bank running seems like an obvious no-brainer, but the fight over reauthorization has become another bloody battle in Washington. Even though the bank may seem like an odd target for your father's Republican party, it is low-hanging fruit for the nihilist wing of today's GOP. It's small enough to actually eliminate the whole thing, and it's obscure enough you can really make up any story you like about the imagined "corporate welfare" it represents. Perhaps best of all for conservatives in Congress, you can kill this agency by NOT passing a law, the specialty of the Tea Party. If nothing happens, Ex-Im won't be reauthorized, and the bank will die. Voila! The government is smaller!
So, as Tea Partiers try to bring the bank down, Democrats find themselves aligned in trying to save it with that quaint wing of the Republican Party that actually believes getting things done to improve our country is OK.
But more and more Democrats are torn. Maybe losing the Ex-Im Bank will actually accelerate the fissure between the Tea Party and the money that sustains the national Republicans. Perhaps we have to let the village burn to the ground to save it.
The GOP money machine seemed to be genuinely scared when the Tea Partiers nearly caused economic crises over debt-limit increases, hurricane relief, and transportation contracts. Losing Eric Cantor and the inability to deal with immigration reform also seemed to shake up the Republican establishment's financial arm. But maybe they need to see real casualties that they care about to persuade them that they need to turn off the fundraising spigot and bring congressional Republicans back in line. Perhaps the Ex-Im Bank needs to die.
Democrats have always burdened ourselves with a sense of responsibility for keeping the government running. This refusal to let things grind to a halt has left us ill-equipped to fight as dirty as this new version of the Republican Party. We negotiate, cajole, and, ultimately, compromise. President Obama long ago decided he wanted his political epitaph to be "He Got The Best Deal He Could."
So as we near the witching hour in another showdown, maybe it's time we stopped trying to keep things afloat and gave up on helping the "good" Republicans who are trying to get the Tea Party gun away from their heads. Maybe the bloodletting hasn't been full enough yet.
Come on, Tea Party. Go ahead and shoot.
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