McConnell's wheeling and dealing shows what leadership and compromise aren't

It really shouldn’t be a surprise to see Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell allow the Ex-Im Bank to be revived after it expired in June. Nor is it really surprising to hear McConnell apparently made a deal with three senators (two of them Democrats) to get Ex-Im back on the calendar as long as they voted for Trade Promotion Authority. McConnell is just doing what some people believe leadership and compromise are all about: the ability to wheel and deal. He’s essentially following the same tactics House Speaker John Boehner did to get the “Doc fix” bill passed earlier this year. One GOP aide told National Journal Boehner was just trying to make it seem like Congress was doing its job.

Boehner’s biggest priority these days is just to get the place working again. I think Boehner’s been through so many of these things and knows how much they disrupt getting anything you want to do done. He wants to resolve it once and for all.

Ronald Reagan famously said in 1981 it was impossible to get everything, so compromises have to happen.

I have always figured that a half a loaf is better than none, and I know that in the democratic process you’re not going to always get everything you want. So, I think what they’ve misread is times in which I have compromised—for example, our entire economic program.

But what are the issues leaders should be willing to compromise on? George H.W. Bush compromised on tax increases during 1990 to avoid cuts the Congress didn’t want and to get a budget passed. The New York Times has a write-up on why he broke his “No new taxes” promise.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers said they had warned Mr. Bush in recent days that the stalemate over taxes was threatening to scuttle the budget negotiations…They [White House officials] added that it also reflected two major problems looming before Mr. Bush: Unless a budget agreement is reached, Federal law will mandate automatic spending cuts larger than either he or Congress wants.

But McConnell’s movements reek of the federal government just doing its thing in hopes of grabbing more power and handing out favors. The Ex-Im Bank is cronyism at its worst, despite President Barack Obama’s promises it helps “small businesses” like Boeing, General Electric, and Caterpillar (note sarcasm on my part). The Mercatus Center at George Mason University has been on the Ex-Im cronyism from the beginning. Veronique de Rugy wrote last year on how the bank favors big corporations who could really pay for their own advertising.

Boeing, Caterpillar, General Electric, and the rest have a large incentive to keep the Export-Import Bank running, despite the fact that the Bank’s own leader, Fred Hochberg, has publicly admitted that these firms can “arrange their own financing” without the Bank’s help.

All this “wheeling and dealing” isn’t sitting well with Texas Senator Ted Cruz who accused McConnell of lying to him during a private conversation.

The majority leader was visibly angry with me that I would ask him such a question. The majority looked at me and said ‘there is no deal, there is no deal, there is no deal… Well, we now know that when the majority leader looks us in the eyes and makes an explicit commitment that he is willing to say things that he knows are false.

McConnell, of course, denies there was a deal (why wouldn’t he) and then said he was just going with what the Senate wanted.

Mr. President, when there is overwhelming bipartisan support for an idea, even if I oppose it, it doesn’t require some ‘special deal’ to see a vote occur on that measure, This is the United States Senate, after all, where we debate and vote on all kinds of different issues.

Interestingly, the entire GOP Senate leadership voted against reauthorizing Ex-Im. From McConnell to Majority Whip John Cornyn to President Pro Tempore Orrin Hatch, every single one voted no. Do they actually believe Ex-Im shouldn’t exist? Were they all influenced by their more “Tea Party” junior colleagues of Rand Paul, Cruz, and Mike Lee? Or did they know they had to vote with Paul, Cruz, and Lee so they could go back to their constituents in Kentucky, Texas, and Utah and say, “Hey we voted against this, you should re-elect us!”

If McConnell, Cornyn, and Hatch believe Ex-Im shouldn’t exist, then they’re failures as leaders. The inability for them to convince their fellow Republicans to vote against reauthorization shows how inept they are. This isn’t Boehner facing a revolt from conservative and libertarians in the House who disagree on an issue. This is just pure incompetence — if the trio really didn’t want the Ex-Im to be reauthorized. The GOP Senate should be working behind the scenes trying to get all three replaced for showing bad leadership. If the no votes are due to the influence of Paul, Cruz, and Lee, then it shows how important those three, and Marco Rubio, are to the Senate. It means Paul, Cruz, and Rubio shouldn’t be running for president, but should be looking to get their own political capital together and plot their own takeover in 2020 (if they’re able to win re-election).

More than likely it’s the last theory: they just want to be able to go back to voters and claim “Hey we voted against this.” It’s purposefully duping the electorate back home, who might not really pay attention, into sending them back to DC. Those three were probably fans of the Ex-Im Bank from the beginning because none of them objected to the unanimous consent votes in 1997, 2002, and 2006. Hatch and McConnell were in the Senate for the 1997 and 2002 unanimous consent votes, while Cornyn was also there for the 2006 one.

The solution may be finding the right candidates to challenge them. But it’s important to remember Lee is the only one of the Paul, Cruz, Lee, and Rubio quartet who actually ousted an incumbent. The others ran for an open seat and won. So getting another one of them into the Senate may have to wait until McConnell, Cornyn, and Hatch retire. Until then, it’ll just be the same ole same ole: farcical votes against measures they know will pass anyway, while they secretly cheer on more government power. It’s just pathetic.