When Bipartisanship is a Dirty Word

May 16, 2012

In a blog post I wrote about two years ago, I said “Usually when I hear that a policy proposal has bipartisan support, I instinctively check for my wallet.” At that time I was lauding a bipartisan proposal to shut the USDA’s market access program (although it seems that idea didn’t get much traction) under the heading “When Bipartisanship Is Good News.”

I should have trusted my instincts; i.e., that “bipartisanship” is code for either:

(a) “we’ve just renamed a post office”;

(b) “cough up, because we’ve agreed to spend more of your money”;

(c) “brace yourself, because we’ve agreed to violate more of your liberties”; or

(d) both b and c (see, e.g., the Department of Homeland Security).

Last night we were treated to an example of (b), when the U.S. Senate in a 78 to 20 vote elected to follow the House’s lead (330 to 93, in that case) to re-authorize, with a bigger budget, the Export-Import Bank of the United States until 2014. (Please do click on the previous two links to the roll-calls so you can see how your friendly Representative or Senator voted on this taxpayer-funded slush fund for the biggest corporations in America, by the way). The bill will now go to the President for his signature.

Allow me a few comments. First, this is incredibly disappointing. One would think that this is an excellent time to shut down the Ex-Im Bank, what with bailout-fatigue, trillion dollar deficits and all. But this bill “had the backing of business and labor groups,” as this Washington Post article makes clear, and despite all of the rhetoric from both sides, it seems that Congress and the President loves them some special interest group pleadings.

Second, the fairly easily debunked talking points of Ex-Im supporters obviously resonated. Ex-Im Bank president Fred Hochburg (who one can hardly expect to do anything other than protect his job) showed an excellent ear for PR when he said “there are no Democratic or Republican exports. There are exports that create jobs. Good, middle-class jobs.” Exports! Jobs! Middle class! What’s not to love? And in the interest of non-partisanship, here’s a quote from Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in response to the arguments made by what the WaPo article called ”tea party conservatives”: 

“I live in the real world and the real world is that these financing mechanisms have to be available to American manufacturers to have a share of the overseas market”

Actually, Senator, I’m glad you raised “the real world”. Because in “the real world” stuff costs money, money that isn’t manna from heaven but taken from other people. And in the real world, regulations or other market interventions distort the economy, reallocating resources from their most productive uses as identified by volunteers putting their own money at risk and towards uses directed by political entities, responding to lobbying and other features of public choice. In the real world, there is nothing special about manufacturing per se, with lots of middle class (or “upper class” jobs, if the class system is something that matters to you) created in the service sector. Also in the real world? Private finance. Lots of it, as you would know if you spoke with any of the folks producing the 98 percent of U.S. exports that don’t rely on Ex-Im.

Third, and this is somewhat parenthetical, not one — NOT ONE — Democrat in either chamber voted against corporate welfare.  Interestingly, according to the roll call for the 2002 re-authorization of the Ex-Im Bank, 26 democrats voted against re-authorization 10 years ago. So there was some opposition back when President Bush was in charge, but now that President Obama (as opposed to Candidate ”The Ex-Im Bank is little more than corporate Welfare” Obama) is supportive, apparently taxpayer guarantees for big business is ok. The following Democratic members switched their vote from “Nay” in 2002 and “Yea” (or should that be “Yay!”?) in 2012: Andrews, Baldwin, Conyers, deFazio, Jackson (IL), Kaptur, Matheson, Nadler, Owens, Pallone, Peterson (MN), Stark, and Waters (with Kucinich not voting in 2012, but voted “Nay” in 2002). I’d be curious to hear about what caused the change of heart.

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