The bell just rang, and free enterprise won the second round over big business, going up 2-0 in the 2015 fight over the Export-Import Bank.
Come September, David (supporters of free markets, free trade, limited government and sound economics) could deliver the knockout blow to Goliath (revolving-door lobbyists corporate welfare, big government and the status quo).
Free enterprise's first-round win came on June 30, when Ex-Im — which subsidizes U.S. manufacturers through taxpayer-backed financing to foreign buyers — saw its charter expire. This wasn't supposed to happen.
George F. Will, the conservative columnist, dismantled the bad pro-Ex-Im arguments of K Street and the Obama administration back in the Spring, but he predicted glumly: "[T]he bank will be reauthorized because it has bought longevity."
Credit rater Fitch late last year gave a AAA rating to PEFCO, the government-sponsored enterprise that exists solely to issue loans backed by Ex-Im. "Fitch's ratings incorporate the expectation that Ex-Im will be reauthorized."
Big business had reason to be optimistic: they had armies of lobbyists, including former Democratic House Leader Dick Gephardt, and former Republican Party Chairman Haley Barbour; they had President Obama; they had the Chamber of Commerce; and their simplistic argument was swallowed whole by some of the mainstream press reporters who were supposed to cover the debate.
But free enterprise had strong allies too: the majority leaders and the committee chairmen in both chambers. Rep. Paul Ryan was on the free enterprise side, too, along with every serious Republican presidential candidate.
So the spring came and went, and the business lobby got its trade deal and its "doc fix," but it never got its Ex-Im vote (except a show vote in June).
At midnight on June 30, Ex-Im lost the authority to put new taxpayer money at risk, and the agency entered liquidation. This was a historic achievement for conservatives, knocking down a federal agency that FDR had created (even the Tennessee Valley Authority still exists). But it was supposed to be short-lived: The big business side was supposed to revive the agency in July.
Sure enough, the minority of the GOP that supports Ex-Im got an amendment to the Senate highway bill that would restart Ex-Im. But the House on Wednesday adjourned for the summer without passing the Senate bill, forcing the Senate to pass the House's short-term highway bill with no Ex-Im provision.
As National Journal told it, this was McConnell's plan all along:
"Going along with the wishes of Ex-Im proponents in the Senate allowed McConnell to get his handcrafted highway bill through the Senate without the fear of actually reopening the bank, since both chambers now plan to pass a three-month highway bill extension."
When the House gaveled into recess at 8:28 p.m. Wednesday, it guaranteed that Ex-Im would stay dead for at least another month.
The earliest votes after August recess will be September 8, and that's just a week before a deadline for action on Obama's Iran deal. Later in September, Pope Francis will visit. The fiscal year ends Sept.30, and Congress must pass appropriations before then or the government will shut down again.
Letting August pass with no Export-Import Bank will just weaken the case for Ex-Im. The giant exporters that use the lion's share of Ex-Im financing will continue to export — Boeing has made it clear that it has many other sources of financing. The hundreds of private firms in the robust trade finance industry will swoop up Ex-Im's former customers — this is already happening: The Omaha World Herald, in a story about the ravages of Ex-Im's expiration, noted that its featured small exporter is "able to go to the private market for insurance; it has done so since July 1."
In this context, will Republican leaders who oppose Ex-Im really make a priority of restarting a defunct government agency? And it's not just the party leaders and committee chairman who oppose Ex-Im: it's a majority of Republicans in Congress.
In the Senate, 31 Republicans are on record opposing Ex-Im, while only 23 support it. That's not even close. There's no official whip count in the House, but conservative leaders, such as Rep. Jim Jordan, think the free-market side has a majority of House Republicans, too.
McConnell values consensus and party peace too much to jam the majority of his members that way.
So can President Obama or the Democratic Senate minority force Republicans to attach Ex-Im renewal to a government spending bill?
Imagine this: Republicans pass through both chambers a bill to fund the government, filled with compromises, but with no Ex-Im. Will Obama veto it and shut down the government and demand an unrelated rider reviving the expired Boeing's Bank — which Obama himself has called "little more than a slush fund for corporate welfare"? Alternatively, will Harry Reid filibuster a spending bill in order to save Ex-Im?
In Washington, the cartel of big business and big government rarely lose. But right now, up against the alliance of anti-cronyism and free enterprise, the big guys are on the ropes.
Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at email@example.com. His column appears Tuesday and Thursday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.