The Complex Facts, and the Intense Feelings, Behind the ExIm Dispute

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

If you’re joining us late, there turns out to be an impressively passionate range of views on the future of the Export-Import Bank. For background reading: No. 1 in the series is “Idiocracy: It’s Not Just a Movie Any More,” my initial broadside against the effort to defund the bank; No. 2 is “When Is It Fair to Call a Policy Position Idiotic?,” a response from readers flustered by No. 1’s harsh tone; and No. 3 is “Another Thing to Blame the Boomers For?” which is self-explanatory.

This next installment is meant to represent the range of incoming sentiment. We begin with someone in the insurance business, who addresses the point of whether ExIm is for giant corporations only:

This reader appreciates your use of the cautionary Mike Judge film to call out the anti-Ex-Im Bank extremists.

My company brokers over 500 Ex-Im Bank export credit insurance policies, more than any other insurance broker in the country. Most of our trade finance business is underwritten in the private sector, but small business exporters find the support they need only at Ex-Im Bank.

Over the past year I’ve visited Capitol Hill, alone and in numbers, to advocate for the agency’s reauthorization. But these exercises in people power have barely registered. This is inside baseball politics at its most venal.

Not just Boeing and G.E. but also small business exporters are being impacted. Hopefully the House GOP leadership will get it together sooner vs. later and bring a vote to the floor.

Just as significantly, the resulting reauthorization will hopefully be durable and Ex-Im Bank will not be rendered as ineffectual as some other once-meaningful federal programs now relegated to perpetual short-term stopgap legislating.

On a similar front, the governors of 26 states, plus Guam and Puerto Rico, sent a letter to Congressional leaders this past summer urging re-funding of ExIm. This was quite a diverse group — the Tea Party Republican Paul LePage, of Maine, along with the Democratic grandee Jerry Brown, of California; Republican Nikki Haley, of South Carolina, along with Democrat Kate Brown, of Oregon; Republican Mary Fallin, of Oklahoma, along with Democrat Maggie Hassan, of New Hampshire; all in all representing a genuinely bipartisan bloc. I can’t think of a similarly broad governors’ group agreeing on anything like this before. You can read the full text of their letter via PDF here. A sample:

And similarly, from a reader who has worked at ExIm’s headquarters:

The lack of action to reauthorize Exim is one more sign that Republicans have become the crazy party in succumbing to even crazier Tea Party forces.  Our trade competitors, of course, are delighted.

***

Next, the meta-reasons for increasing skepticism of ExIm. Another reader writes:

Related to your other reader's comments about Boomers is that it seems the sentiment "what's good for American companies is good for America" is much less widely shared than it used to be.

As people hold increasingly negative views of "big business', they're more likely to reflexively see something like ExIm as just another example of corporate welfare, of their hard-earned tax dollars going into the pockets of millionaire CEOs.

For most people, both well and poorly informed alike, views on ExIm and other similar issues (TPP was another good example) reflect snap judgments based on the more basic question of "how do I feel about big business in this country?"

And from another reader, connecting the ExIm debate with the controversy over the Iranian nuclear agreement:

I noted with interest your reader who mentioned the difficulty of non-experts forming opinions regarding complicated matters.  That is certainly true of the Iran deal.

I support the deal, not because I have any specific knowledge of the details, but because I have confidence in the Administration, its allies and the various security and nuclear experts who say it’s a good deal.  I also support the general political view that the international sanctions regime was designed for this very purpose and would not hold together if the deal is rejected.  While in an ideal world it would be great if Iran remained financially hobbled, that’s an unrealistic, and perhaps illegitimate, goal.

Interestingly, many of the Democratic  Senators and Congresspeople announced their support with relatively lengthy explanations of how they reviewed the terms, talked to experts and came to a conclusion.  To the best of my knowledge, no Republican in Congress indicated any sort of careful analysis or consultation with experts, and I would venture to guess that none of them attended the Administration’s sessions with various groups of experts.

Of course, many Republicans opposed the deal for strictly partisan reasons, or because they were reluctant to buck the party line, or for the same reason that Netanyahu opposed it—they were opposed to any deal with Iran which ended sanctions..

So may contemporary issues and policy choices depend on expert information that those of us without expertise inevitably have to decide who we are going to listen to.  It’s disheartening that one of our major political parties doesn’t seem to care what knowledgeable folks think or have to say.

***

Another way to approach a complex issue. The note below is from a West Point graduate and one-time Army officer now working in the IT industry. I know his real name, business address, and related details but don’t think I should publish them. In one of his online profiles he says that he has “well-honed communication and presentation skills,” which is an interesting set-up to the note below (and which I know, from trying, might will not be enough for you to identify him via Google.)

Even though this is a family magazine, I decided to leave the well-honed profanity as is, since bowdlerizing it would look even stranger. And I quote it because a lot of the anti-bank mail takes a similar tone:

Only a dried up, Carter administration, 70's retread Liberal fuckstick like yourself could make a reference to the movie "Idiocracy" and fail to realize that the Liberal tolerance for mediocrity and love of populism is what that movie lampoons.

And your article about the ExIm Bank is one extended ad hominem attack puncuated by supportive statements from company reps whose companies are firmly latched onto the ExIm teat.

Like most Liberals, you subscribe to feelings and nuance over facts and intelligence.  Which is why we will never venture to Mars or live outside our galaxy.  Can you imagine what a clusterfuck the Apollo program would have been if NASA in the 60's had been staffed with Progressive policy wonk assclowns like you, instead to pragmatic scientists and engineers?  (who tend to vote Republican, by the way.  Only you useless asstards with BA degrees vote Democrat)

So please, stick to writing what you know: how to maintain a huge Federal bureaucracy and how tasty you find Barack Obama's ball-sweat.

Leave grown-up topics o the grown-ups.

Oh, one more thing: fuck your mother.

You can always find this sort of thing in comment sections or if you go looking for it. I mention it here because it wasn’t only this one guy, and he is getting his views from somewhere.

The debate goes on.