Just twenty-two months ago, the Waukesha, Wisconsin General Electric factory was flourishing. It was churning out gas engines on the regular and putting hundreds of American machinists to work.
In fact, the factory was doing do so well that President Obama came to town to praise it as an example of how American manufacturing was finally bouncing back after the Great Recession. But then in September of this year, GE suddenly announced that it was closing the Waukesha facility and moving its 350 jobs across the border to Canada. That’s right, Canada!
Which raises the question: Why would a proud American company like GE move one of its most famous factories, one that the President publicly praised, to, you know, Canada?
The answer to that question is actually pretty easy.
GE moved its factory Canada because Republicans killed the Export-Import bank. Formed in 1934 to help finance and subsidize American trade abroad, the Export-Import bank was, for most of its history, pretty uncontroversial. And for good reason too. Since it gave money to foreign companies to help them buy American products, the Bank helped support hundreds of thousands of good American jobs.
And since the money that it gave out came in the form of loans, so those countries had to pay us interest to buy our manufactured goods, it also made a $1 billion profit for Treasury Department. So, help make American companies more competitive abroad, support jobs at home, and make money for the government — sounds like a win-win for everyone involved, right?
Not according to the Tea Party.
This year hard-right Tea Party members of the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives successfully blocked the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, on the grounds that it was “corporate welfare” and “crony capitalism.” And so, on July 1 of this year, the 81-year-old bank’s charter expired, leaving its future in limbo. This left the United States pretty much alone in the developed world as a country without a functioning export bank, so companies started moving their American factories to countries that do have export-import banks.
One of those companies was General Electric, which decided to move that Waukesha, Wisconsin factory to Canada because Canada, like most developed countries, has an Export-Import Bank-like institution. If this whole saga were a murder mystery, the Tea Party or House Freedom Caucus would be the guilty villain.
It let the Export-Import Bank expire, and, in doing so, killed the Waukesha, Wisconsin GE factory and its 350 jobs. But like all good murder mysteries, the story of who killed the Waukesha, Wisconsin GE factory has a twist. And that twist is the fact is the fact that the Tea Party and House Freedom Caucus were apparently acting as hit men for a much bigger interested party: the Koch brothers.
How do we know this? Well, for one, we now know, thanks to Politico, that the House Freedom Caucus is pretty much wholly owned by the Kochs.
The two leading donors to the so-called Freedom Caucus are Koch Industries itself and the Club for Growth, a major Koch-affiliated group, so anything the House Freedom Caucus does will, presumably, in some way or another, benefit the Koch brothers and their fossil fuel empire.
So that’s the Koch connection, but what’s the motive?
Why did the Kochs apparently order the House Freedom Caucus to kill the Export-Import Bank? Could it be because the bank cuts into the domestic fossil fuel industry's — which presumably includes Koch Industries — bottom line?
As The New York Times reported over the weekend, two scholars from the Koch-backed Mercatus Center recently put out a study that looked at the largest buyers of exports supported by Export-Import Bank financing and found that the top 10 were all either foreign oil companies or airlines. The [Koch-funded] authors singled out the subsidies to foreign oil companies: “The federal government,” the report said, “doubly disadvantages U.S. energy firms — through Washington’s excessive regulation and Ex-Im Bank subsidies to U.S. firms’ foreign competitors.” In other words, the Export-Import bank makes rival fossil fuel companies like Shell and BP more profitable than Koch Industries. So there you have it, Sherlock.
It looks like the Kochs had the House Freedom Caucus take out the Export-Import Bank to slightly increase the profitability or competitiveness of their own fossil fuel empire, American jobs be damned.
Another neat little trick courtesy of the Koch-Freedom Caucus is shutting down the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which supports parks, beaches, bike paths, playgrounds, and all sorts of other public areas. It turns out that the Land and Water Conservation fund — as Timothy Egan points out in the New York Times — is funded by a very tiny tax on oil pumped out of the ground from public lands. It's how domestic oil companies pay us all for their ability to extract oil from public lands we all own.
And, surprise, Republican congressman Rob Bishop — who has the oil and gas industry as his largest contributor according to Open Secrets — has pretty much singlehandedly killed the fund. No more tiny tax on fossil fuel dynasties in America.
If you want to know what the Koch-Freedom Caucus cartel is up to next, just ask what would be of greatest benefit to the Koch Brothers and their company. And, if the reporting in the New York Times and other outlets is true, just for clarity, shouldn't we be calling it the "Koch Caucus"? Or at least, the “Koch's Freedom Caucus”?
It's high time to bring some sunlight to the activities of those Republicans in congress who are largely owned by, and serving on a daily basis, billionaires and their businesses, instead of average working Americans.