Vice President Joe Biden spoke at the Export-Import Bank's annual conference in Washington in April. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Vice President Joe Biden spoke at the Export-Import Bank's annual conference in Washington in April. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

I really like this, from Ezra Klein’s analysis of the Export-Import Bank fight and reform conservatives:

This has been taken, in some quarters, as proof of a kind of hypocrisy: the Ex-Im fight just pits one group of lobbyists against another, and so is little more than business-as-usual in Washington. But what it really shows is that plausible coalitions exists for all kinds of policy agendas, and so the assumption that reform conservatives will be destroyed by business interests may not be as ironclad as it seems: there are plenty of businesses who don't feel they're winners under the status quo, and they can afford lobbyists, too.

That multiple plausible coalitions are always possible is an important point. But that depends on, essentially, a certain kind of “business as usual.” In particular, it requires party politicians to have a policy agenda; for that agenda to be substantive, not symbolic, and for those politicians to be open to compromise and bargaining along whatever lines become available.

That’s why reform conservatives are very promising, whether or not their ideas are “new” or viable or even, in the long run, coherent. I’m not saying that their ideas aren't new, viable or coherent; just that it doesn’t really matter whether they are. A lot gets jumbled along the way from ideas to policy. What matters is whether politicians care about getting on the path to substantive policy, and whether they accept the normal paths as legitimate.

And as far as I can see, reform conservatives as a group are attempting to push Republican politicians in that healthy way.

In that, they are pretty much the opposite of Tea Partyers who prefer slogans to policy and symbolism to substance, and who view only one particular coalition as acceptable, even if (and in its most dysfunctional form, especially if) that coalition isn’t large enough to achieve anything. Not all Tea Partyers push the party in that direction, and not all those who push that way are Tea Partyers, but that is the main effect of the Tea Party on the Republicans, and to that extent it’s dysfunctional.

Some Congressional Republicans are talking about shutting down the government over the Ex-Im Bank. Instead, I’d like to see a willingness to cut a deal on this suddenly high priority issue. I don’t think the Democrats can demand much; after all, Democrats as a group are largely indifferent, and plenty of them oppose the bank to begin with. However, it would be nice to see Republicans at least be open to the idea of giving up on some Democratic priority to get one of their own. Would reform conservatives be willing to endorse such a deal, at least in principle? I agree with Ezra: This promises to be a very interesting fight.

To contact the writer of this article: Jonathan Bernstein at Jbernstein62@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net.