One of the most common refrains of the American left for decades has been their attacks on the corporate bogeyman they like to call “big business.” And in the political arena, by extension, Democrats just love to thrash Republicans as being nothing more than Big Business’ political tools. That line of attack has been around so long, it’s to be expected even in our ever-changing political landscape.
Remember Democrats’ gleeful tarring of Mitt Romney as an out-of-touch plutocrat during the 2012 presidential election? Or who can forget the Occupy Wall Street protests, when squatters in public squares across America expressed a general frustration with individuals and companies who, in their view, made too much money?
Of course, this mindset is nothing new. In fact, the term “corporate welfare” – often employed to describe government’s cozy relations with big business – has been around since at least 1956, when it was employed by Ralph Nader. That term was also used in 2008 by a Democratic senator running for president, who singled out a government program to decry as “little more than a fund for corporate welfare.”
The senator, of course, was Barack Obama, and the government agency was the Export-Import Bank of the United States.
Today, the Barack Obama of 2008 has some unlikely allies. The Export-Import Bank – or Ex-Im, as it’s known inside the Beltway – is being criticized by conservative lawmakers on Capitol Hill who see it as an example of the crony capitalism that’s making it tougher for American employers to get ahead.
What’s more, it’s a classic example of government doing something the private sector is perfectly capable of handling on its own. The bank’s purpose is to provide financing to allow foreign companies to purchase American goods – amounting to a government handout to accomplish something the market is better equipped to undertake. And Ex-Im is known for being incredibly friendly to the Democrats’ hated “big business” – 60 percent of their financing goes to ten large corporations. The largest recipient by far is Boeing, which raked in 30 percent of total Ex-Im financing in 2013 alone. Hence, the Bank is colloquially known as “Boeing’s Bank.”
Here again we see Democrats railing against business on the stump, but pulling out all the stops behind the scenes to protect their pet spending projects and corporate welfare. This is the latest and most brazen example yet.
The bank’s charter is due to expireon September 30 and conservatives like House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) are eyeing ways to enact significant reforms or allow the charter to expire outright, effectively killing the bank.
But in a display of hypocrisy so flagrant it could only happen in Washington, D.C., Democrats are cozying up to their old nemeses big business in order to protect something their own president cited as an example of “corporate welfare.”
Senator Chuck Schumer from New York has emerged as one of the bank’s top defenders in Congress. Schumer’s move is especially interesting for a senator whose own website describes him as “a leader in protecting consumers from big business and special interests.”
But Senator Schumer is not alone. Recently he held a conference call highlighting efforts to re-authorize Ex-Im along with Senator Maria Cantwell from Washington State and Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota. It’s not hard to figure out Cantwell’s stake in saving the Bank – Washington-based Boeing is one of her top campaign donors. Heitkamp is hyping Democrats’ “absolutely stellar” case for reauthorization, despite the fact that she had no issues going after big business in her campaign a few short years ago. In the U.S. House, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel, also from New York, has carved out time for special meetings with “business leaders in New York” to discuss the Ex-Im Bank.
Why are Democrats falling all over themselves to protect a government program that mostly helps out major corporations? Why are they joining forces with the business leaders they’ve so often vilified and vowed – in Schumer’s case – to “protect consumers” from? The cynicism that drenches the answers to these questions may be par for the course in Washington, D.C., but it amounts to a betrayal of these politicians’ supposed principles, such as they claim them to be. For the American people, it is an insult to their intelligence.