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Washington showdown looms over Ex-Im Bank and cronyism

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Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina, wants to change the rules of one of the biggest crony capitalist organizations in Washington.  He wants to make it easier for the Export Import Bank to dish out large amounts of corporate welfare to companies such as Boeing, which already brings in revenues upward of $95 billion per year.

USA Today reported in a recent article that “Graham, as chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds foreign operations, has added a provision to the 2017 spending bill that would allow the Export-Import Bank to consider projects of more than $10 million.”

Many supporters of free trade have long opposed the cronyism and corporate welfare of the Export-Import Bank, all while only celebrating minor victories.  In the summer of 2015, the Export-Import Bank’s charter expired forcing it to close its doors until five months later when Congress reauthorized the bank for another five years.

Another minor victory for those who oppose the Export-Import Bank might be the election of Donald Trump.  Although evidence from Trump’s past portrays him as a mercantilist, the president-elect is on record of making critical remarks toward the Export-Import Bank:

I don’t like it because I don’t think it’s necessary. It’s a one-way street also. It’s sort of a featherbedding for politicians and others, and a few companies. And these are companies that can do very well without it. So I don’t like it. I think it’s a lot of excess baggage. I think it’s unnecessary. And when you think about free enterprise it’s really not free enterprise. I’d be against it.

The Export-Import Bank, or Ex-Im, is a corporate welfare government organization that exists in order to give loans and guarantees to foreign countries in order to buy American made products.  One of the biggest problems with Ex-Im, like most forms of corporate welfare, is that it is sprinkled with cronyism.  It claims to promote trade and produce jobs in the United States but it seems like the only thing it actually does is pick winners and losers in the economy.

What, at one time, appeared to be a victory for many advocates of free trade is now being threatened.

The Export-Import Bank operates under the direction of a Board of Directors which consists of a president, vice-president, and three other directors.  When a seat on the board becomes vacant, it is filled by the senate approving a nomination from the U.S. president. This is important because in order for the Export-Import bank to approve any transaction greater than $10 million they need a majority of the board to approve it.

Recently, this has prevented Ex-Im from making any transaction over $10 million because currently, there are three vacant seats on the board and the process to fill those vacancies is being held up by Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.  Sen. Shelby, along with many other members of Congress including West Michigan U.S. representatives Justin Amash and Bill Huizenga, oppose the cronyism supported by Ex-Im.  Last year when Ex-Im closed its doors, Amash said this in an article for MLive: “Ex-Im embodies everything Americans hate about Washington. It’s finally dead. Let’s keep it that way.”

Sen. Graham’s provision to the 2017 spending bill will make it so that Ex-Im can resume making transactions greater than $10 million without a majority of the board’s approval, bypassing Sen. Shelby’s blockade.  Not only does this have the potential to increase the level of cronyism in Washington but it defeats the purpose of “checks and balances.”

So what can we expect to happen? It will come down to a lame-duck session which will probably take place sometime in early December.  Typically the congressional appropriations committees that are responsible for creating the government spending bills do so by the end of October.  But, once again this year that failed to happen and a short term spending bill was put in place to extend government spending until December 6th.  Now Congress will be forced to meet in a lame-duck session in order to pass the 2017 government spending bill.

According to Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky:

The main business of the lame-duck session will be an omnibus spending bill that will fund every branch of the government. Although it will be over 1,000 pages long, congressmen will have only hours to read this budget-busting legislation that will fund virtually the entire Obama agenda until Sept. 30, 2017.

Will congress risk a government shutdown over a small provision that increases the cronyism in Ex-Im? Most likely not.  This can be demoralizing for supporters of free trade but now we will have all the more reason to spread the word about the benefits of free markets and the harmful effects of cronyism.  And with a Trump presidency starting in 2017, there is hope that he will stay true to his previous comments about being against the corporate welfare bank.

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Kyle Hanby

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