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July 25, 2014 2:47 PM A Token Attack on Corporate Welfare

By Ed Kilgore

National Review’s John Fund trumpets the big approaching moment:

It seems like decades since Republicans have been able to permanently zero out a government program of any size. The tea-party base often doesn’t take seriously the GOP’s commitment to shrinking government and has accused the GOP of ladling out benefits to the elite and well connected.
If Republicans in Congress simply do nothing, the New Deal-era Export-Import Bank, which guarantees loans so that American multinationals can sell products overseas, will vanish at the end of September. Last year, the bank backed $37.4 billion in loans, loan guarantees, working-capital guarantees, and export-credit insurance, the vast majority of which went to mega-companies such as Boeing, General Electric, and Caterpillar.

It is a pretty big shift for congressional Republicans to go after Exim, albeit in a passive manner that rewards inaction. But assuming they don’t succumb to lobbying from Exim’s clientele, you can expect the significance of the moment to be exaggerated for the benefit of the Tea Folk and the general electorate. After all, if this is, as Fund calls it, “the moment of truth,” that takes the pressure off all sorts of other corporate welfare items, particularly in the tax code.

I can understand the impulse to exercise tokenism here. Back when I used to do policy work, I constantly suggested that congressional Democrats find some federal program to kill (my usual proposed victim was the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration, a small and crony-ridden local development grant program in constant search for a new mission). It wasn’t that I thought such gestures would or should depict Democrats as “anti-government,” but instead that separating sheep from goats would indicate they had some sense of priorities, instead of just level-funding everything in sight forever, as congressional appropriators and other Hill Barons tended to do in a perpetual back-scratching arrangement.

Still, even if Exim expires, sooner or later Republicans—and for that matter, the supposedly anti-corporate-welfare Tea Folk—will have to come to grips with the massive and variegated ways in which federal policy accommodates the interests of the wealthy and powerful. Tokenism just won’t cut it.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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