Stillwater News Press

Opinion

July 11, 2014

STEVE AND COKIE ROBERTS: Surprising GOP reversal on Ex-Im bank

STILLWATER, Okla. — Here's a quiz: Which politician favors reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank, which aids American companies that compete in world markets and last year helped support $37 billion in exports and 205,000 domestic jobs while actually turning a profit?

Is it Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the new majority leader of the House of Representitives, who voted for the agency in 2012 and belongs to a party long defined by its devotion to business interests? Or President Obama, often characterized by his opponents as a job-destroying crypto-Socialist?

It's a measure of how crazy things have gotten in Washington that the answer is Obama. He's joined with such notorious right-wing groups as the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers in defending the Ex-Im Bank, whose charter expires on Sept. 30.

McCarthy, meanwhile, is so intimidated by the tea party faction in his own ranks that he now opposes an institution he once supported and might not even bring the reauthorization measure to the House floor.

McCarthy said on Fox News Sunday that it is no longer needed because it provides a service “that government does not have to be involved in. The private sector can do it.”

But that's just not true. Intoning the magic words “private sector” like a religious mantra does not obliterate economic reality. Moreover, the international playing field is not level. Fifty-nine other countries subsidize their exporting industries, often heavily.

The opposition to the Ex-Im Bank is not just about economics, however. It's also about culture, emotion, even theology. This mindset reflects a rebellious impulse that divides the Republican Party and departs sharply from the GOP's traditional approach. The Ex-Im Bank has been around for 80 years and has always commanded bipartisan support.

Tea party types like to lionize Ronald Reagan but in fact he was far more flexible and pragmatic than they are. He never deluded himself that undocumented immigrants would “self-deport” and in 1986, signed legislation legalizing about 3 million of them. He was also a strong supporter of the Ex-Im Bank, saying in 1984 that it “contributes in a significant way to our nation's export sales.”

In 2012, the House approved the bank 330 to 93, with 147 Republicans voting yes; the 72 Senate supporters included 27 Republicans. And today, Republicans who are not intimidated by the tea party or blinded by prejudice continue to understand the bank's vital work.

Take Texas Gov. Rick Perry who wrote to Congressional leaders: “Since the 2008 financial crisis, the Ex-Im bank has helped more than 1,200 Texas companies finance more than $19 billion in exports – more than any other state. More than half of these exporters were small businesses, with more than 20 percent of those being women and minority-owned enterprises.”

Historically it was knee-jerk liberals who assumed there was something evil about corporations making money. They were always derided – and rightly so – by Republicans who pointed out that if corporations didn't prosper they couldn't create good jobs, pay good wages or provide good benefits.

Now it's conservatives like Kevin McCarthy who are being quizzed on their knowledge of basic economic principles. And failing.

Steve and Cokie Roberts are nationally-syndicated columnists.

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