Steven Biel: I keep reading about how Bruce Poliquin wants to chase General Electric and their jobs out of Bangor. Now why would he want to do that?
Lance Dutson: You’re talking about his work to reform the Export-Import Bank—and you’ve clearly been listening to too much spin from the Maine Democratic Party.
Steven: I don’t think so. The Ex-Im bank was shut down in July by tea party hostage-takers including Rep. Poliquin. It was only saved when a bipartisan coalition of 218 members of Congress signed a discharge petition—something that almost never happens—forcing a vote on legislation to revive it. Chellie signed that petition and Bruce didn't. What gives?
Lance: There's no question that Congress is in turmoil right now, and I'll admit the blame lies at the feet of the Republican Party and the boiling fight against fringe elements that has resulted in a Speaker-less House. Fortunately, in this case, the result is good for Maine. Party loyalty was set aside and enough Republicans joined with Democrats to move the reauthorization of the Ex-Im bank forward, a move that will protect jobs in Maine.
Steven: But not Bruce Poliquin. We joke about how the Ex-Im bank is wonky and obscure--but this is important Maine. The purpose of the bank is to provide favorable loans to buyers of U.S. exports. That means jobs. But after the tea party shut the bank down, General Electric announced that they were on the verge of shipping 400 good-paying jobs to France, including about 80 in Bangor. And what's really shocking is that Rep. Poliquin responded to that by attacking GE as a "Wall Street corporation”—which is awfully rich coming from him.
Lance: Congressman Poliquin adopted Rahm Emanuel's maxim to "never led a good crisis go to waste." Instead of simply giving a thumbs up to business as usual, Poliquin seized the moment to draw attention to some serious problems with Ex-Im. His support for reauthorization comes with some common-sense reform efforts.
First, Bruce wants regime change at the bank. The current head has presided over an unconscionable level of corruption and fraud and has clearly not shown the leadership necessary to maintain support for his organization's important work. Second, Poliquin has proposed that the Ex-Im bank be the option of last resort when foreign companies need loans. This distinction means American banks won't be unfairly crowded out of the marketplace, and it means taxpayers won't be on the hook every time this type of financing is required. And third, rather than letting the Ex-Im board serve as a landing place for political cronies, Bruce has proposed something shocking: he wants the bank to be overseen by a group of private-sector professionals who actually have experience in the industry. Those are good, commonsense reforms.
Steven: Wow that's quite a tale you just spun. And you said it with such conviction I almost think you believe it! The truth is that for months he’s been attacking the very idea of the Ex-Im bank as "crony capitalism." Now that he's getting hammered by Democrats and blamed for killing jobs in Bangor, he's flip-flopping like one of the fish you pulled out of Maine's lakes this summer. He didn’t even ask for the changes you describe until October 7—months after the bank shut down and after it became clear that the discharge petition was going to be successful without him. Why would would anyone listen to him now?
Lance: I disagree. Congressman Poliquin took a lot of heat initially on this issue, but at the end of the day he comes out looking like a true reformer while protecting Maine jobs at the same time.
Steven: Generally I’m sympathetic to the idea that there’s too much corporate welfare in Washington. And I roll my eyes at some of the extravagant claims made by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce about how the Ex-Im bank is the greatest thing since lobster mac and cheese. But shutting it down completely was incredibly reckless. Bruce better pray that Chellie and the other 217 representatives who signed that discharge petition saved the bank in time to save those GE jobs in Bangor. If not, he'll have a hard time explaining that kind of "reform" to voters.
Lance: I think we're seeing the makings of a different kind of Congressman in Bruce Poliquin. He's leveraging his position to bring real change, rather than score points. Thanks to him, we've expanded the dialogue about what the Ex-Im Bank actually does and how it runs, and that's a good thing. And his willingness to come around on his vote and support those Maine jobs shows that he's not a reckless ideologue. Bruce was labeled by opponents as a tea partier, but I think we're seeing the traces of his CD2 lineage starting to manifest. Olympia Snowe and Bill Cohen were moderate Republicans who held that seat before going on to further distinguish themselves in the U.S. Senate, and a moderated Bruce Poliquin who is strong enough to resist the shut-down branch of the Republican Party in Congress could very well follow that same path.
Steven: Uh oh. You just called Bruce the m-word. Now he’s really in trouble! Killing jobs is bad, but that’s the kiss of death in your party.