Democrats have long been purveyors of patronage and corporate welfare, but forever they've gotten away with pretending to be populists. In 2015, that charade ended.
No doubt Hillary Clinton, President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid will keep play-acting as anti-corporatists, but after the show their party put on over the past twelve months, only the most credulous and inattentive observer will believe it.
Pelosi's party carried the ball for Boeing and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and led the fight to save and later revive the Export-Import Bank, a corporate welfare agency conservatives this summer sent into liquidation. Democrats fought, but failed, to save an insurance bailout that was part of Obamacare. Hillary led the Democratic presidential field in defense of the indefensible ethanol mandate.
The House floor on Oct. 26 perfectly captured the year. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and her lieutenant Steny Hoyer whipped their members hard to sign a "discharge petition," a parliamentary tool to force a House vote on reviving Ex-Im. K Street Republican Stephen Fincher had filed the motion, but most Republicans (including the party leadership) opposed his effort. Pelosi and Hoyer, however, made it clear: Every Democrat was to sign the petition by noon that day.
So Democrat after Democrat would give a floor speech against special interests (the bill under consideration was one that would allow the export of oil) and then walk down and sign the petition.
Ex-Im dedicates twice as much subsidy money to Boeing alone than it does to all small businesses in America. It is an explicit bailout to banks — mostly JP Morgan — which call it "free money." Obama, as a candidate, aptly called it "little more than a slush fund for corporate welfare."
In 2015, though, Obama bragged that — in addition to being a Nobel Prize winner, a Grammy Award winner and a best-selling author — he may be the world's greatest Boeing salesman. "Other than, maybe, the CEO of Boeing," Obama said in June, "I don't know anyone who's done more to sell Boeing planes around the world than me."
Why the turnaround?
Because Republicans stopped doing the Democrats' dirty work for them. Democrats have always relied on corporate welfare. They created Ex-Im, they expanded Ex-Im. They liked that Ex-Im allowed them to steer money towards the technologies they liked (see the Obama Ex-Im's effort to boost a flagging Solyndra). Chuck Schumer in 2015 made it clear he would use Ex-Im to raise money for Democrats.
Fostering government dependence is a good thing if you're a Democrat, and that's what corporate welfare does: It turns big business into the clientele of the welfare state.
But as long as Republicans were willing to take the lead on "pro-business" policies, Democrats were happy to play a mere supporting role. This always gave Barney Frank and Obama great ammunition with which to attack Republicans as hypocrites — opposing welfare for the poor, but favoring it for corporate America.
An anti-cronyism movement slowly grew on the Right, though. It began with the 2008 Wall Street bailouts, got a boost in 2009 from Obamacare and the stimulus, and first really manifested itself with the 2010 Tea Parties. This movement took out Trey Grayson, Charlie Crist, Bob Bennett, David Dewhurst, Eric Cantor and others. Now nearly half of Republicans oppose Ex-Im, and the party leadership feels compelled to go along.
So in 2015, Democrats seem to have realized that if they want their corporatism — and they do — they need to do the heavy lifting themselves.
It was a similar story on bailing out health insurers. Obamacare included a subsidy called "Risk Corridors," which went to struggling insurers. In late 2014, Marco Rubio passed a measure capping Risk Corridor payouts to struggling insurers, thus protecting taxpayers. This year, Republicans insisted on extending that cap, over the administration's objections.
This forced Democrats into the position of angrily calling for taxpayer bailouts of the very companies they had spent years pretending to attack.
With the Iowa caucuses coming up, every Democratic presidential candidate has embraced the Hawkeye State's most indefensible corporate welfare goody: the federal ethanol mandate. Hillary Clinton in 2002 called a proposed ethanol mandate "an astonishing new anti-consumer government mandate." Today she campaigns on the mandate. Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley support it too, while Republican Iowa front-runner Ted Cruz calls for the rapid wind-down of the law.
These battles could set up interesting general election debates, with Clinton forced to defend corporate welfare for Boeing, for Aetna, and for Archer Daniels Midland, while the Republican attacks those positions.
The more the GOP rids itself of its corporatism, the more the Democrats have to own it. In 2015, Democrats signed on the dotted line.
Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at email@example.com. His column appears Tuesday and Thursday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.