Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) had a guest column online today at National Review, calling for his party peers to take a stand against the corporate welfare and “crony capitalism” that permeated Washington politics before the Obama era, and has accelerated, at the acquiescence of both parties, since.
“From the stimulus to cash-for-clunkers, from the bailouts to cap-and-trade, from Dodd-Frank to Obamacare, every name-brand initiative of the Obama era has distorted public policy to privilege well-connected insiders and elites at the expense of taxpayers and consumers,” wrote Lee.
“The Right’s [recent] resistance to corporatism is a welcome development. Special-interest favoritism represents a uniquely malignant threat to the economic, political, and social ecosystem that makes America exceptional.”
That’s all well and good, he argues – but it’s difficult to ask for the public’s trust when it’s clear that cronyism existed within the Republican Party before Obama came to Washington, and that internal resistance to change the culture is as strong within the ranks of the GOP as it is with Washington in general.
Obamanomics has delivered record corporate profits but sagging middle-class wages and an anemic, jobless recovery. It has promoted and exacerbated inequality. It has isolated the poor and squeezed the middle class.
It has also exposed the president’s party to extreme political vulnerability.
But to seize this opportunity — to fix what’s broken in Washington and our economy — a still-distrusted GOP first must end cronyism in our own ranks. The GOP has to close its branch of the Beltway Favor Bank and truly embrace a free-enterprise economy of, by, and for the people.
Impossible? That’s what they said about earmarks.
Too radical a change? These are principles we already espouse.
Imagine a reformed Republican party seizing the moral high ground against political corruption and economic dysfunction. Imagine its leaders, advocating populist, free-market reforms to restore jobs, growth, and fairness to the economy. Faster than you can say “TARP,” we could pin the Left between their egalitarian facade and their elitist agenda, and force them to choose between K Street and Main Street.
That Republican party could not only unify and excite conservatives, but appeal to hardworking families in the purple and blue communities that President Obama’s special-interest favoritism is leaving behind.
Lee then offers a litmus test to determine the GOP’s sincerity when it comes to changing the party’s furtive policy tie-ins with corporate benefactors: whether Congress will renew its authorization of the Federal Export Import Bank (or “Ex-Im” Bank), which uses American tax dollars to subsidize loans to American exporters.
“Most of the benefits go to large corporations that are perfectly capable of securing private financing anywhere in the world,” wrote Lee. “In short, Congress allows the Ex-Im Bank to unnecessarily risk taxpayer money to subsidize well-connected private companies… Whether the beneficiaries of particular Ex-Im Bank loan guarantees are respected, successful companies like Boeing or crony basket cases like Solyndra is irrelevant.”
If Congressional Republicans keep mum when the Ex-Im reauthorization comes up this summer, Lee says it’ll be a sure sign that all the GOP talk about ending cronyism on Capitol Hill is just so much sound and fury for the TV cameras.
For some context on Lee’s capacity for sincerity, though, it’s perhaps helpful to remember that Lee had no problem letting his mortgage bank eat the losses on a short sale of his Utah home to a friend and campaign donor back in 2011, not long after he was elected to the Senate.