Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., May 28, 29 or 30
After all, renewing the Export-Import Bank supposedly was key to flipping 11 votes from the Senate’s earlier rejection of fast track, and two corporations who’ve profited from the Ex-Im loans to foreign companies to buy U.S. goods are based in Illinois: Boeing and Caterpillar. Boeing’s benefited from more than $48 billion and Caterpillar about $2 billion over the last few years.
Progressives and conservatives alike have blasted Ex-Im as “crony capitalism.”
But Durbin stood up to pressure, almost alone in the Midwest, where he and Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly defied lobbyists and the White House. Falling into line were Republicans Roy Blunt (Mo.), Dan Coats (Ind.), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Democrat Claire McCaskill (Mo.).
TPP “is the most secretive effort I have seen when it comes to a trade agreement,” Durbin said. “Most Democrats are inclined to vote no unless they know what they’re voting for.”
Durbin is one of many who object to TPP’s backroom negotiations or undemocratic features, such as its Investor-State Dispute Settlement tribunals giving corporations more power than governments.
Fast tracking limits Congress to an up-or-down vote with no chance for amendments, surrendering what Durbin said is Congress’ “right to take a close look at the trade agreement and how it might impact our country and your state.”
Almost always progressive, Durbin is principled but pragmatic, too. In March, when Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid announced his plan to step down at the end of his term, Durbin – as Democratic Whip, the Senate’s Number 2 – said he’d prefer to remain Whip rather than compete with the Senate’s third-ranking member, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, for the Leader post.
Fellow Democrat Patty Murray of Washington – who supports TPP – in April didn’t endorse Durbin for Whip when balloting happens in November 2016, fueling speculation that she may seek the position. But Durbin has publicly remained above the fray. Whip since 2005, Durbin’s responsible for organizing Democrats’ votes, and he’s been recognized as effective.
“That was classic Dick Durbin,” said political organizer Robert Creamer, author of “Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win.”
“Durbin is an ambitious and successful political leader,” Creamer continued, “but when the chips are down, he has always put the interests of his colleagues and the Democratic Caucus and his commitment to progressive values ahead of his own narrow personal interests.”
Durbin’s stances are consistently progressive. He opposed the Iraq War; he’s been a critic of for-profit colleges and exploitative college textbook publishers; he’s been a champion of pay equity for women; he’s sought reform for student debt; and he’s advocated for the DREAM Act and related executive action for undocumented immigrants.
The 70-year-old lawmaker also has blasted the corporate runaway practice dubbed “inversion,” where companies move their headquarters overseas to escape tax obligations. He’s singled out Midwest firms including Walgreens and Monsanto for considering the idea.
Maybe most courageously, Durbin’s stood up to the Big Banks and credit-card companies, famously remarking in 2009 that it’s “hard to believe in a time when we’re facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created [they] are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. They frankly own the place.”
A loyal Democrat, he’s nevertheless been unafraid to flex his independence, backing Obama’s 2008 campaign when conventional wisdom favored Hillary Clinton, and most recently praising liberals such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), despite Sanders announcing his campaign to run against Clinton in the presidential primaries, and Warren supporters urging her to also enter the race.
“It’s an important voice to have in this election,” Durbin said about Sanders. “It’s going to force us as a party to reconcile some of our experiences on Capitol Hill, where it’s tough to achieve anything with the ambitions of our party – which should be a lot greater than they are.”
As for Warren, Durbin said, “I’m one of her biggest fans. She’s so damn smart and she is damn effective in presenting her point of view – and she scares the living hell out of Wall Street.”
Last but not least, Durbin has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with organized labor. In the AFL-CIO’s most recent legislative scorecard, measuring Capitol Hill’s 2013 votes on 18 actions important to working people, Durbin scored a 100-percent rating, agreeing 18 out of 18 times with labor.
His lifetime score: 98 percent.
Talk about playing the percentage.
[PICTURED: Durbin is shown at an union function last year.]