Friday, September 26, 2014

Reform Conservatives and the Export-Import Bank

A subset of the conservative intellectual movement has begun to call itself "reform conservatism". Generally, reform conservatives are real conservatives who are too cool for the Tea Party. Paul Ryan is the supreme example. Other notables include Yuval Levin, Ramesh Ponnuru and the new House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. You might have to ask the above brain trust on whether the former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor still belongs in the club after becoming the first House Majority Leader to ever lose in his own primary. Reform conservatives wear suits, drink wine and pose for pictures like this:

while exercising their supreme intellect, eloquence and influence with the cool kids to get real conservative reforms implemented in government.

After Eric Cantor lost his election to virtual nobody David Brat, reform conservatives began an obviously coordinated effort to abolish the Export-Import Bank. Cantor had been a supporter of the bank, so the rest of the reform conservative movement immediately moved against the institution Cantor had been protecting.  Reform conservatives began writing articles everywhere about how the Export-Import Bank was nothing more than a slush fund, a pork barrel full of taxpayer cash for favored business interests, most notably Boeing. (Boeing stock dropped two percent after Cantor lost his election.) Supposedly the Ex-Im Bank helps American companies export their goods overseas, but we all know this game. Boeing spends a lot on lobbyists, and they get a lot of cash from the government for their efforts. The Ex-Im Bank was an excellent target for reform conservatives. There was no expectation the Democrats would fight it very hard since Boeing is of course a military contractor and a traditionally Republican interest, so it shouldn't have required a Republican Congress to get done. In addition, the Ex-Im Bank was up for extension earlier this month, meaning that a vote was required to extend the bank. Crucially, the movement to abolish it did not require a positive vote. It only needed to stop a vote to extend it, which made it politically possible without Republican control of the Senate. Reform conservatives recognized a genuine political opportunity to actually do something, and launched a coordinated effort against the Ex-Im Bank. As far as I can tell, they've never done anything like this before. It serves as an instructive test as to what these reform conservatives can get done when it really matters, unlike the forty-plus votes in the House to pass the Ryan budget when everyone knew the Senate wouldn't let it out of committee.

In the actual event, reform conservatives managed to get a vote that only extended the Ex-Im Bank for nine months instead of the seven years that Harry Reid wanted. I'm sure they were told it was a compromise, and that they had scored a victory by getting an opportunity to "revisit" the issue again next year. I'm sure reform conservatives were also told that Republicans would be more receptive to the move after the election this fall, that doing it now would make the Democrats really mad, and we just can't have that. "Wait till after the election". Then after the election we will have to wait until after the next one. We've all heard this before. We'll see if reform conservatives remember. I certainly will, and in nine months I'll be watching closely to see exactly how much real power reform conservatives have. I'll be watching to see how many articles they publish on it and how much difference it makes. My guess is not even enough to get rid of a massive government subsidy for a military contractor when the military budget is being slashed all across the board. But I'll bet they have enough power to get the run-around again, another short extension instead of a long one and the chance to "revisit" the issue again. In the meantime, the Ex-Im Bank continues on just as it has been and nothing changes, even if Republicans take the Senate.

The Tea Party, for all its uncoolness, knows something that reform conservatives do not. If you want to wield political power, you must first have it. It's not enough to appeal to the ideology to which every Republican appeals to get elected in his primary. You have to have political power and you have to hurt somebody with it before you are taken seriously. You can't be a wine club that writes articles for online conservative magazines and expect to get anything done.

The Tea Party also knows that the first enemy is not Democrats but Republicans. Nothing conservative is going to happen when conservatives don't even have control of the supposedly conservative party. We are constantly told that anything conservatives want must wait till next time, while raising the payroll tax, extending the Ex-Im Bank, etc., etc., always happens so easily without so much as a peep from the Republican establishment. We are constantly told to wait until the next election, if we do it now we might lose the election, it's not the right time, we must compromise, etc., etc., etc. Reform conservatives seem to take these excuses at face value, instead of recognizing them for what they are: black propaganda. The Tea Party may not look good in suits, but at least we're not dupes.

Now that's whack.