Last night I watched on C-SPAN the Senate roll-call vote on the transportation bill amendment to reinstate the Export-Import Bank, and it passed by a vote of 69-28. (McConnell voted no on the amendment.) So note that there is overwhelming support in the Senate for the Ex-Im Bank, at least on a recorded vote. It is remarkable that the opposition to this small piece of crony capitalism has succeeded in putting its further existence in doubt at all.
But I noticed an important detail I had not known before: the amendment was sponsored by Illinois Republican Senator Mark Kirk. Guess what major Ex-Im Bank beneficiary now has its headquarters located in Chicago? Exactly: Boeing. And don’t forget Caterpillar, another Ex-Im Bank beneficiary, is based in Peoria. Senators who don’t go to bat for their state’s major economic interests don’t last very long as a practical matter. Sen. Kirk is going to be in a tight race for re-election next year. If he’d opposed the re-authorization of the Ex-Im Bank, he’d probably lose for sure, with those two big companies against him.
That’s not an argument in favor of the Ex-Im Bank. But it is fairly easy to connect the dots here. McConnell needs to worry about keeping a Republican majority in the Senate through the next election, which is going to be difficult. He could have blocked consideration of this amendment, the way Harry Reid did routinely to most amendments, but McConnell promised to run the Senate in a more open manner than Reid. I’m sure Sen. Kirk begged McConnell to be allowed to sponsor the amendment to cover his political flank in Illinois.
You can call Kirk a useless RINO if you want, but given the high chance that the GOP House will kill the Ex-Im Bank as House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has said it will do, allowing Kirk’s amendment was a costless way of giving Kirk and other Senators with strong home state interests political cover. The Ex-Im Bank is hardly the most objectionable feature of the legislative dance going on right now over the transportation bill, as the Wall Street Journal’s lead editorial noted this morning. As the old saying goes about making sausage and legislation. . . And while I dislike the Ex-Im Bank as much as the next person, it is small corn compared to the ethanol cronyism. The Ex-Im Bank ranks pretty far down my list of congressional cronyist outrages these days.
Did McConnell at some point promise Ted Cruz that the Ex-Im Bank was dead and wouldn’t get another crack at life? If McConnell did, he shouldn’t have. Cruz’s blast at McConnell represents someone breaking the unwritten rules of the insiders’ game. Maybe Cruz’s motives for doing so are mixed up with his presidential ambitions and strategy, which finds all the candidates trying to figure out a way to break the single-minded media hypnosis over Trump. On the other hand, Sen. Orrin Hatch’s “I am shocked, shocked” that Cruz would transgress the Senate’s “comity” over legislative procedure is a prime example of exactly why conservatives are so disgusted with GOP leadership on Capitol Hill. Cruz is saying it is time for the Senate to get off cruise control. (I note that Hatch has been in the Senate for 38 years now.)
I rather like Cruz exposing the cynical maneuverings of the Senate. But I also don’t fault McConnell trying to help a politically vulnerable member of the caucus shore up his political flank with a rear-end covering amendment. To readers who say “What good is a Republican Senate if it won’t kill the Ex-Im Bank?”, I’ll look forward possibly to asking how they’ll like it if President Cruz can’t get decent cabinet and judicial appointments through a Democratic Senate two years from now. Is purity over something as relatively inconsequential as the Ex-Im Bank worth that prospect?