From its creation 81 years ago as an early part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, through all the decades under Republican and Democratic administrations until about two years ago, the Export-Import Bank had been a presumptively necessary-and-beneficial part of U.S. economic and business strategy. Like the agencies that built highways or sponsored basic research, it was seen by both parties and all presidents as part of the public infrastructure that improved the conditions in which private businesses could operate. Its operating costs have been small and, by some calculations, it has been returning more money to the Treasury than it has cost.
Even in 2012, a House of Representatives already held by the GOP gave landslide approval to ExIm’s three-year reauthorization. That’s what you see in the chart at the top of this page. But since then, an alliance of libertarian-absolutist think-tank figures and anti-government absolutist figures from the Tea Party have kept re-authorization from coming up for a vote in the House (which they knew ExIm supporters would win). That’s what has made the impossibly boring-seeming ExIm showdown actually an illuminating proxy for debt-ceiling fights, government shutdowns, and all other struggles between the radical-change faction of the GOP and its “well, there’s an actual government to run” wing.
And all that, in turn, is why the House vote last night on a “discharge petition” that will force an up-or-down vote on the bank’s itself, and that expected vote today, are markers that parallel the (apparent) agreements on the debt-ceiling and the overall federal budget, as signs that the “governing” wing of the GOP may be reasserting itself.