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Why Ex-Im matters

From the outside looking in, Washington, D.C.’s current obsession with the U.S. Export-Import Bank may seem a bit bizarre. Politicians from both parties, including almost every presidential candidate, are squabbling over this little-known federal agency’s future. Is this really one of the most important things for them to focus on right now? 

It is. The debate over the Export-Import Bank—which expires on June 30—will show the American people whether our elected officials are serious about reforming Washington. 

{mosads}That isn’t an exaggeration. Although most Americans have never heard of it, the Ex-Im Bank is an 80-year old agency that does exactly what most of us hate: It gives tens of billions of our tax dollars to a tiny number of multi-national corporations that make millions or even billions in profit. It’s corporate welfare, plain and simple. 

You’d be hard-pressed to find a politician who doesn’t oppose corporate welfare on the campaign trail. Once they get to Washington, however, many don’t have a problem using our hard-earned tax dollars on such an unworthy cause. 

Admittedly, Ex-Im is not the worst example of Washington corporate welfare. But it is the easiest one for Congress to eliminate—there doesn’t even need to be a vote. If the bank’s charter is simply allowed to expire this summer as scheduled, the bank will stop using more taxpayer money to back big businesses’ profits. This should be a slam-dunk for any politician who wants to strike a blow for the taxpayer—and against special interests. 

But the fight to end the Ex-Im Bank is anything but a slam-dunk. Right now, powerful special interests and some of America’s largest companies are lobbying Congress around the clock to preserve the status quo. Desperate to keep the taxpayer subsidies flowing, they’re running television ads, visiting legislative offices on Capitol Hill, and spending millions of dollars trying to keep Ex-Im alive. They’re hiring teams of lobbyists, shaking the right hands, and funding the right campaigns in a blatant attempt to keep the taxpayer on the hook for their business deals.  

And that’s why this issue matters.  

If Congress can’t stand up to these special interests and muster the courage to end Ex-Im, there’s little chance our representatives in Washington will tackle any of the larger issues facing America, such as tax reform, entitlement reform, and real health care reform.  

If they can’t end one small corporate welfare program, what hope do we have that they will ever resolve the more pressing problems confronting our country? 

Fortunately, a growing number of our elected officials now recognize that fact. For Democrats, even Barack Obama has called the bank “little more than a fund for corporate welfare.” On the Republican side, a large number of representatives led by Reps. Jeb Hensarling (Texas), Paul Ryan (Wis.) and others are waging an effort to let Ex-Im expire. They are joined by almost all of the 2016 presidential candidates—even the socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wants to eliminate Ex-Im. Hillary Clinton is the most prominent of the few candidates who have publically advocated for keeping the bank around.  

Unfortunately, this near-unanimity does not exist in Congress, where the fight to end Ex-Im is still very much an uphill battle. But every day, more and more representatives and senators come out against it.  

So the question remains. Between now and June 30, will enough members of Congress take this small but important stand against special interests and business-as-usual? Or will they kowtow to Washington’s culture of corruption—a culture in which corporate welfare too often trumps common sense? 

That’s why this matters. Ex-Im may not be the biggest issue that Congress confronts this year, but it is definitely one of the most important. It’s a simple test for our representatives and senators, who have an easy opportunity to put Americans’ interests above special interests. If they can’t do that, that doesn’t bode well for the future of our country.

Koenig is senior policy advisor at Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce.

Tags Barack Obama Bernie Sanders Hillary Clinton Paul Ryan

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