The Tea Party’s New Target: Foreign Trade

The Tea Party is up to its antics again, and their target this time is more startling than usual. Congressman Jeb Hensarling – a native Texan from Dallas County – is leading an initiative to terminate the U.S. Export Import Bank, an essential part of our country’s international business industry.

The Ex-Im Bank is a fairly obscure part of our national government, but it has a vital role in foreign transactions. The agency provides loans and guarantees in the billions to foreign buyers that wish to purchase U.S. planes, trucks, and other domestic goods. This way, domestic products are given a competitive advantage in international markets and cash flow between the United States and other countries is maintained at a stable, healthy rate.

The bank costs nothing to American taxpayers, as interest from loans and transaction fees returned the United States Treasury a $1 billion dollar profit in 2013. Last year as well, the Ex-Im Bank supported over $37 billion dollars in exports. Ninety percent of the bank’s transactions were for American small businesses that are selling products abroad, and the other ten percent helps domestic corporations in international markets. Its entire purpose is to support American business and American products overseas – something one would expect to be right up the populist agenda’s alley.

Not anymore, apparently. Although the Ex-Im bank has been reauthorized consistently for the past eight decades since its inception in 1934, and although the bank’s entire purpose is to promote domestic businesses and products, the Tea Party has decided the federal agency should cease to exist. They argue the bank is a sign of “crony capitalism”, where big businesses like Boeing and General Electric (two companies that benefit immensely from Ex-Im bank) get assistance from the government. This was never a problem for the Tea Party before, which supposedly stands for everything American. It begs the question, what are they really after?

The latest controversy might be a political maneuver on Rep. Jeb Hensarling’s part. Hensarling is eyed by some conservatives on the far right as a potential challenger in November to the current Republican leadership: be it Speaker John Boehner, new Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, or incoming Whip Steve Scalise. A Tea Party Republican, Hensarling is attracting a lot of attention in the House that may throw him into the spotlight. If Hensarling manages through Washington’s political mess with the Ex-Im bank as his cover, Americans might see the House’s own Ted Cruz.

The controversy may also be another Tea Party gimmick as the populists hack every federal agency in their way. The Republican old guard remains hesitant on shutting down the Export Import bank – in fact, the bank’s charter was renewed with bipartisan support in 2012 – as there is little reason to destroy a federal agency that costs nothing to American taxpayers and promotes domestic industry. The Tea Party remains vigilent, however, in seeing the bank’s funeral.

The war between moderate Republicans and the Tea Party continues, and the Export Impact bank is just another piece of collateral damage.

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