In “On the Export-Import Bank, the Numbers Come First” Mr. Nocera says a conservative think tank makes the case for the Export-Import Bank. Ms. Collins is a brave woman. In “Presidential Primary Book Club” she tells us that at 43, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has already written an autobiography. And she’s read it so we won’t have to. Here’s Mr. Nocera:
In June, for the third time since 2012, the Export-Import Bank of the United States, an export credit agency that backs loans to foreign entities that help cement deals with American exporters — and thus helps create American jobs — must be reauthorized by Congress. Otherwise it will go out of business.
For most of its existence, the Ex-Im Bank wasn’t even remotely controversial; it would be routinely reauthorized for four to seven years at a time. Its underwriting was — and remains — impeccable, with a default rate of under 2 percent. With dozens of other countries using their own export credit agencies to help homegrown companies land deals, the Ex-Im Bank was viewed as an important equalizer for American companies, especially small businesses, which often can’t find funding when they want to sell their goods in foreign markets.
But in the last few years, prodded in part by Delta Air Lines, which objects to the lending assistance the Ex-Im Bank gives to foreign purchasers of Boeing aircraft, Tea Party Republicans have agitated to shut it down. In doing so, they have turned the fight over the Ex-Im Bank into an ideological litmus test. The bank’s dealings with Boeing, they claim, are an example of “crony capitalism.” The bank is in the business of picking “winners and losers,” something the government shouldn’t be doing, they say.
It gets in the way of truly free markets. The last time the Ex-Im Bank was up for reauthorization, in September, Republicans grudgingly agreed to a short-term extension. Now its opponents are moving in for the kill.
Leading the charge are the conservative think tanks, like the Heritage Foundation and Americans for Prosperity, which just the other day sponsored a conference call with Senator — and presidential candidate — Marco Rubio, who described the agency’s work as “corporate welfare.”
There is, however, one conservative think tank that has refused to join the crowd: the five-year-old American Action Forum, or A.A.F., co-founded and led by the economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin. Since last May, it has issued a series of reports making the case that the country is better off with the Ex-Im Bank than without it. Given the way apostasy is treated among conservative ideologues, this struck me as courageous.
As it turns out, Holtz-Eakin doesn’t view the American Action Forum’s stance as especially courageous. “I am a conservative,” he stressed — and most of the policy positions his think tank takes, on issues like tax policy and regulation, are unambiguously conservative.
“But,” he added, “I think too many conservative arguments are made on the basis of ideology and faith. We are dedicated to the numbers at A.A.F. We can’t just assert that markets work; we have to show it.”
Simply put, his think tank supports the Ex-Im Bank because that’s where the numbers — and the facts — led it.
Holtz-Eakin, 57, has held a number of important policy jobs in government. He was part of the Council of Economic Advisers under both Presidents Bush, the second time as its lead economist. He was an adviser to Senator John McCain during his presidential race. And between 2003 and 2005, he was the director of the Congressional Budget Office, which places a high premium on just-the-facts-ma’am numbers and research. “It is really important to have that kind of information in any sort of policy debate,” Holtz-Eakin told me.
Thus it is that Holtz-Eakin believes that immigration reform should reward skills and let in more immigrants. “The data shows that immigration offers great opportunity as an economic policy,” he said. As a member of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, he refused to sign on to the right wing’s pet theory that the entire crisis could be blamed on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. “I have no love of Fannie and Freddie,” he said. “But they weren’t the sole cause of the crisis.”
As for the Ex-Im Bank, Holtz-Eakin decided to get his think tank involved last year, as the agency became a hot-button issue among conservatives. He directed a young research associate, Andy Winkler, to do a series of deep dives into the Ex-Im Bank; that research led the American Action Forum to support its continued existence. “It would be a negative if we got rid of it,” Holtz-Eakin says.
The most recent piece of research by Winkler showed that, far from being in the back pocket of big companies like Boeing, the Ex-Im Bank made loans that were an accurate reflection of American trade itself. Big companies make up a small percentage of the corporations that export goods, but they account for a high volume of the dollars involved. The vast majority of exporters are small businesses, though their aggregate dollar volume is much smaller. The Ex-Im Bank’s loan portfolio is in about the same ratio.
Winkler, who is 24, came to the American Action Forum straight out of college. What have you learned from working with Holtz-Eakin? I asked him.
“The numbers come first,” he replied.
Now here’s Ms. Collins:
Concerned citizens bear many great burdens, one of which is trying to follow a presidential race in which virtually every candidate has written one or more books about their lives, hopes, dreams, theories — and, in the case of Mike Huckabee, diets.
You cannot possibly read them all. It is very likely you don’t want to read any. That’s what we are here for. Today: Marco Rubio.
Rubio is 43, and he has already written an autobiography (“An American Son”) and a book on policy (“American Dreams”). Do not feel compelled to go back and look at “100 Innovative Ideas for Florida’s Future.”
Right now, we’re going to concentrate on the autobiography, which is a great corrective for anyone under the impression that Rubio had an impoverished childhood. His parents, working-class Cuban immigrants, most definitely did struggle financially. But Rubio makes it clear none of the struggling trickled down to him: he lived a “charmed, happy life” and was, in fact, “an insufferably demanding kid.”
Kudos for candor, Marco Rubio!
He certainly did have a talent for getting his way. Rubio’s family were Mormon converts, but, when Marco was about 12, he argued that everyone should go back to Catholicism. Which they did. He then requested that he and his sister be allowed to go to Catholic school, and his parents agreed, even though it was a financial stretch. Marco soon decided he didn’t like it, and successfully demanded a transfer to the local public school.
Besides his extremely cooperative relatives, the most vivid characters in the book are probably the Miami Dolphins, who come up all the time. Although his sister and fiancée won positions as cheerleaders, Rubio’s own hopes of making the team were quashed by reality. But not before he tried to pursue the dream by accepting a football scholarship to a 500-student private college in Missouri that was more than a two-hours’ drive from Kansas City and flirting with bankruptcy.
Somewhere during freshman year, he seems to have gotten a grip, and it was back to Florida, community college and then upward and onward through law school. At this point, with his early flaws corrected, Rubio starts confessing that he was a bad boyfriend to his future wife, Jeanette, and later, an absentee father as his political career took off.
But all of Rubio’s faults, it turns out, are personal. Politically, he has no regrets. He manages to go from a youthful labor union enthusiast to Tea Party poster boy without any hint of internal struggle. And while the book is jammed with details about polls and campaign staff shake-ups and fund-raising, it’s often weirdly apolitical. The first time Rubio says he felt “a genuine desire to engage in federal policy debates” was in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected president, and he was already a former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.
Rubio was elected to the State Legislature at 28, and he made it to speaker in six years. (Florida has eight-year term limits, so there’s actually no such thing as a slow, steady climb to power.) When he arrived, the governor was Jeb Bush, who Rubio describes as pretty much the best person in the universe. Later, when he was considering a race for an open Senate seat, Rubio dutifully checked first to see if Jeb was interested. “If he were to run, no one would challenge him in the primary — certainly not me,” he wrote. Ah, history.
Rubio clashed with Bush’s successor, Charlie Crist, over Rubio’s idea — the first of those we’re really hearing about — for eliminating all property taxes in favor of higher sales taxes. It was an early harbinger of Rubio’s antipathy for taxation according to the ability to pay, but Crist successfully countered with a much more modest proposal.
Their other big battle involved Crist’s ambitious efforts to fight global warming. Rubio’s discussion of this entire issue takes up two paragraphs, and despite the fact that Florida is absolutely awash in the effects of climate change, it’s the only mention of the subject in his autobiography. Also — spoiler alert — it’s not going to come up at all in his policy book.
Meanwhile, that Senate race is looming. Crist is running, too, and the first part of Rubio’s campaign seems to mainly consist of whining. (“Why would God put me in this position?”) God figures a lot in this story, and although Rubio says he knows “God didn’t endorse candidates,” he does make it pretty clear that he knows who would win if God had an absentee ballot.
Triumph! Marco Rubio is off to the Senate in 2011. His career there takes up only five pages. “What has surprised me the most,” he confides to readers who have stayed with him until the bitter end, “is that life as a U.S. senator is pretty much what I expected it to be.”