The excitement is building. Only a few more weeks until the long-awaited midterm elections, which Republicans hope will mean they take over the Senate and smite President Barack Obama even harder.
And, so, we wonder, what is impassioning the voters who will make this momentous decision? Is it the killer terrorists of the so-called Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (although true followers of Islam want nothing to do with it)? Is it the treatment of young black men by police? Is it Obama’s milk-toast version of “bringing it on”? The border crisis with young children being sent on hazardous journeys to the United States without their parents?
For millions, especially in tea-party strongholds, it is the riveting matter of the fate of the Export-Import Bank of the United States.
I do not jest.
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It’s sort of hard to figure this out. Have Americans suddenly taken a strong new interest in arcane economics? Or are tea partiers jousting with an issue they don’t really understand, just as they tried to ruin the U.S. reputation as a good investment by preventing the country from paying its legitimate debts? (Not understanding that raising the debt ceiling applies to debts incurred and is not a license to incur new debts.)
It is difficult to imagine a conga line of protesters waving banners: “Ax the Ex-Im.” But, really, these people are passionate about this.
Most countries have export-import banks to make loans to foreigners to buy their products. The U.S. bank charter written in the Depression says its purpose is to assist in financing the export of U.S. goods and services to international markets. If Congress does nothing by Sept. 30, the bank will run out of money and close its doors.
Hurrah, say some conservative Republicans, who argue the bank is a monster running amok, one form of the kind of corporate welfare and crony capitalism that they oppose. (But they like some forms, such as low taxes on corporations.)
Whoa, say most Democrats who rightly think the bank could be reined in but who say its demise would hurt thousands of American businesses and cost U.S. jobs when the fragile economic recovery is still struggling to sit up in bed.
But it is not a straight Republican v. Democrat issue. The conservative Heritage Foundation wants the bank shut down while the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says that would be stupid.
The Chamber has a countdown clock on its website and urges business leaders to write to Congress and “support the bank.” It notes the bank provided $37.4 billion worth of sales of U.S. products in 2013 and accounted for 200,000 American jobs.
Heritage argues the bank is “beset by mismanagement, dysfunction, and risk” inevitably the “result of government assuming a function far beyond its proper purview and one that rightly belongs to private business alone.”
Ah, the vagaries of time. Two years ago the bank was reauthorized with bipartisan support. That was then; this is now.
Obama used a scintillating (not really) radio address to urge support saying the bank’s demise would mean thousands of big and small businesses would take a “completely unnecessary hit.”
The man who wants to snatch control of the Senate out of Majority Leader Harry Reid’s Democratic hands, Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., opposes reauthorizing the bank.
The bank says, hey, Congress, we make a profit and touts success stories of U.S. companies it has aided. For example, the president of Thrustmaster of Texas, Inc., says the bank provided wherewithal for multimillion-dollar sales that permitted it to compete on a level playing field with the big guys.
But the bank’s own overseers admit there are problems that need fixing.
There is a chance Congress may do a short-term extension to keep the bank operating until after the election and then work out a better solution. But in the polarized climate on Capitol Hill that’s a longshot.
Election-year politics are so whimsical.
Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. Her email address is email@example.com.