Humans may be mortal, but the government programs they create tend to live on forever. Just weeks after the New Deal-era Export-Import Bank finally expired, Senate Republicans are planning to resurrect the corporate welfare arm through a highway funding bill.
Conservatives may well ask what was the point of Republicans winning the Senate.
The Export-Import Bank was created by FDR to provide taxpayer-backed loans to foreign companies to purchase American products. Perhaps the idea made some sense in the depths of the worldwide Great Depression, but any rationale for the program has long since been confined to the history books.
Today, less than 2 percent of America’s exports are financed by the Ex-Im Bank. In a world of very cheap money, it isn’t clear that the taxpayer-backed loans are necessary for even this small amount of sales.
This is especially true because over 60 percent of the loans backed by the bank go to a small handful of American corporations, with giants like Caterpillar and Boeing reaping the overwhelming majority of the benefits. The federal lending agency is really just another financing arm for a few well-connected companies.
The Export-Import Bank is simply a poster child of federal corporate welfare. Its benefits are concentrated on a few companies that donate considerable funds to politicians and its costs are spread, in minuscule amounts, across all taxpayers. Its only real economic benefits are confined to those who can navigate the agency for their own ends. There is no real benefit to the overall economy.
If this federal welfare agency can’t be allowed to expire, then nothing the government does will ever come to an end.
Thankfully, the bank’s charter expired on June 30, so it legally no longer exists. This being Washington, however, dead isn’t quite dead.
Next week, the Senate is expected to take up a short-term spending “fix” for the federal highway trust fund. The “fix” is a “must-pass” piece of legislation to shore up funding for infrastructure spending. The Senate GOP is likely to attach an amendment reauthorizing the Bank, forcing the House to accept its resurrection in order to maintain highway spending.
Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee have threatened to filibuster the spending patch if such an amendment is added to the spending bill.
“I am willing to use any and all procedural tools to stop this corporate welfare, this corruption, from being propagated,” Cruz said.
As admirable as this sentiment is, the effort is likely to fail. The principled point will be lost in a sea of news stories about threatened infrastructure spending. Senators will posture about the critical needs of our nation’s highways and bridges, cheered on by Washington’s donor class.
And, yet again, an antiquated relic of corporate welfare will rise again on the banks of the Potomac.
The new Republican majority will again prove that adage that the more things change, the more they remain the same.