Down the rabbit hole: Kochs want an end to corporate welfare?

It felt like I fell down the rabbit-hole when I read that the rabid right-wing oil billionaires David and Charles Koch, along with their Republican cohorts are sick and tired of corporate welfare. What?

Just this past September, Charles Koch, chairman of the board and CEO of Koch Industries Inc., called on corporate leaders to shun government-corporate “cronyism” and oppose “rather than promot[e], corporate welfare.”

Again, what?! Just to briefly state the obvious: Koch Industries has been a recipient of corporate welfare in all kinds of ways, including government subsidies and tax breaks. Why would Charles Koch and his brother David launch a campaign against what they have hypocritically benefited from?

The answer may lie in another part of Koch’s speech given to a “summit” in California this August. Joshua Watkins, in a blog post on Charles Koch Institute, wrote, “Mr. Koch pointed to the banking industry, which he argued saw big banks take bailouts in exchange for overregulation and now sees smaller banks paying the price, as representative of how corporate welfare is creating irreversible class distinctions. ‘We’re headed toward a two-tiered society-a society that’s destroying opportunities for the disadvantaged and creating welfare for the rich,’ Koch said. ‘Misguided policies are creating a permanent underclass, crippling our economy and corrupting the business community.'”

What? Did he just call out the banks, corporate welfare and class society? Is he going to go after Chase for their subprime loans that helped set off the 2007-2008 financial crisis and thousands upon thousands of foreclosures?

Is he going to tell Walmart and McDonald’s to raise wages to $15 an hour and stop forcing their employees onto food stamps and Medicaid? Or is he going to lobby Congress to end the billions in tax breaks Big Oil receives every year?

Is he going to launch a campaign against the unconscionable concentration of wealth at the top .1 percent, a concentration of wealth that has caused an unprecedented crisis of economic/income inequality compounded, in addition, by racial and gender inequality?

Nope. Instead, the elder Koch bro lashes out at a little known bank backed by the U.S. government.

Join me in going down the rabbit hole to Waukesha, Wisc., where General Electric Co. announced it will close its engine plant there and move it to Canada, costing the area just west of Milwaukee 350 good-paying union jobs.

The company blamed Congress because GOP lawmakers refused to renew the charter of the U.S. Export-Import Bank, a government entity that extends lines of credit to global buyers of U.S.-manufactured goods. (Things changed in the wake of GE’s announcement and business and labor political pressure when late yesterday Congress voted to reauthorize the Ex-Im charter.)

Apparently this bank has long been a target of the Kochs because it supposedly facilitates corporate welfare by guaranteeing loans for U.S. exports. Now that Congress is full of their extremist ilk, the Kochs smelled blood and one of their think tanks launched an End Ex-Im campaign, gathering signatures of 95 members of the House of Representatives, all Republicans, including – get this – Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner’s, whose district includes Waukesha!

The Heritage campaign called the bank a “slush fund” for a “handful of well-connected special interests.”

Then one of their academic-based think tanks issued a report, confirming the corporate “cronyism” but with a twist. The Mercatus Center of George Mason University chose to emphasize the buyers of U.S. exports in their talking points. “A new analysis of government data reveals that Ex-Im Bank’s top 10 overseas buyers are large corporations that primarily purchase exports from multinational conglomerates,” write the report co-authors, claiming “the subsidies lavished on these foreign firms actually undercut American companies and workers that must compete without such government assistance.”

Talking point words like “lavish,” “slush funds,” “foreign,” “overseas,” “multinational” jump out at me. The report targets five of the top ten for being “state-controlled” and for being “involved in the exploration, development, and production of oil or natural gas.

“These foreign concerns are collecting subsidies from American taxpayers at the same time that the Obama administration is restricting domestic oil and gas operations.”

The impression given here is the Obama administration is favoring “foreign” over the good old Red, White and Blue USA and doing it in an underhanded way with its “slush funds.” And who is standing up for U.S. business and jobs? The Kochs and the Republicans, of course!

Back in Realityville, a plant is closing in Waukesha and GE blames the closing of Ex-Im Bank. Wisconsin’s Republican political leaders Gov. Scott Walker and soon to be House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan don’t seem concerned and said they support abolishing the Ex-Im saying it doesn’t help small businesses.

But, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Star, the numbers say differently:

“Since 2007, the U.S. Export-Import Bank has helped support more than 27,000 jobs at 218 Wisconsin businesses, resulting in $5 billion worth of exports, according to government figures. In 2014, the bank supported $210 million in Wisconsin exports, 46 percent of which were from small businesses.”

GE and Boeing are definitely giant corporations with political connections and beneficiaries of Ex-Im loan guarantees. But, even according to the pro-Republican Chicago Tribune, reality of global export-import business trumps Trump-styled politics of hypocrisy and hyperbole.

In an Oct. 1 editorial the Tribune says, “Here’s why the Ex-Im matters: It fills a crucial niche for both big companies and small businesses. Commercial banks often avoid the export market, or charge extra, because of the unique risk factors and paperwork demands. Many international transactions are privately financed, but for 10 or 15-year loans on construction projects or big capital equipment purchases in dicier parts of the world, government loans or guarantees are often needed. If the Export-Import Bank isn’t around, would-be customers will go elsewhere. (‘Hello, Beijing? I’d like to apply for a loan.’)”

Seems like this fight has caused cracks between sections of corporate rule. Manufacturing realists versus fossil fuel extremists, perhaps? But it also seems that these extremists are readying their ideological explanation for one of the main issues for the 2016 presidential election – income inequality – and appropriating the language of progressives and labor in order to confuse, obfuscate and channel righteous anger in the wrong direction.

To believe the Kochs or the far-gone, far-right Republican Party have your best interest at heart, you’d have to be as mad as a hatter, but anything can happen down the rabbit hole.

Photo: Samantha Marx/Flickr (CC)


Teresa Albano
Teresa Albano

Teresa Albano was the first woman editor-in-chief of People’s World, 2003-2010, leading the transition from weekly print to daily online publishing and establishing PW’s social media presence. Albano has been a staff writer for People’s World covering political, labor and social justice issues for more than 25 years. She traveled throughout the U.S. and abroad, including India, Cuba, Angola, Italy, and to Paris to cover the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. An award-winning journalist, Albano has been honored for her writing by International Labor Communications Association, National Federation of Press Women and Illinois Woman Press Association.