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Mike Lee: Uniting against cronyism and restoring equal opportunity for all

By Mike Lee

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, May 1 2014 9:23 p.m. MDT

A pedestrian talks on his mobile phone as he crosses the intersection of Connecticut Avenue and K Street in northwest Washington Thursday, Jan. 26, 2006. K Street bisects the nation's capital on a route that stretches from Georgetown through the city's business district into a working-class neighborhood. But "K Street" has long been invoked as shorthand for the monied lobbyists who ply influence in this town from offices scattered along the avenue or nearby.

Charles Dharapak, Associated Press

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I believe an anti-cronyist reform agenda could unify the American public at a time when Washington tries harder than ever to divide us.

Today, Washington is dominated by a political strategy that transcends party lines while simultaneously breeding much more pernicious divisions among the American people.

This is America’s crisis of crony capitalism, in which government twists public policy to unfairly benefit favored special interests at the expense of everyone else.

For the Washington establishment in both parties, bestowing privileges on well-connected insiders and rewarding the special interests with the most to spend on politics is just the way government is supposed to work.

I couldn’t disagree more.

Cronyism simultaneously corrupts our economy and our government, turning both against the American people. By forcing American families who work hard and play by the rules to prop up, bail out and subsidize elite special interests that don’t, cronyism is at the heart of America’s growing "opportunity deficit."

Cronyist policies come in many shapes and sizes, but the upshot is always the same: making it easier for favored special interests to succeed, and harder for their competitors to get a fair shot. Just as the real victim of the baseball steroids scandal was the marginal player who never got a fair chance because he didn’t cheat, the true victims of crony capitalism are the true capitalists: honest entrepreneurs, employees, consumers and investors who are today unfairly forced to play uphill in a rigged game.

The pathology of special-interest privilege represents a uniquely malignant threat to American exceptionalism, for it sees the country as a conglomeration of politically assigned subgroups and selfish special interests.

But this isn’t what our country looks like. Beyond the Beltway, most Americans are far more interested in trying to make a decent life for themselves and their families than engaging in the political battles that animate Washington.

It seems to me that both parties need to remember that there is no such thing as “our” people. There is just the American people, all in this together in a free-enterprise economy and voluntary civil society, working hard and playing by the rules, helping each other and especially those who can’t help themselves.

It’s big government that divides us — transforming cooperative citizens into “friends” and “enemies” of the political elites. Freedom unites us.

Freedom depends on equal opportunity for all. That’s why I am asking my colleagues in Congress to commit to an anti-cronyist reform agenda that restores equal opportunity to the top of our society, roots out special privilege from the law and re-empowers the American people.

A commitment to an anti-cronyist, equal opportunity reform agenda isn’t just good economic policy; it’s essential to restoring the public’s trust in America’s largest political and economic institutions.

An early test of this commitment will come later this year when Congress will decide whether or not to reauthorize the charter for the Export-Import Bank — one of the most egregious cases of corporate welfare.

“Ex-Im” is a little-known program that gives taxpayer-backed loan guarantees to foreign buyers of American goods. While the Bank’s supporters claim it is essential to maintaining American exports, most of the benefits go to a small group of well-connected corporations that are perfectly capable of securing private financing anywhere in the world.

Allowing Ex-Im to expire this year would eliminate one of government’s favorite tools to redirect money from the public to politically-favored corporations, deliberately rigging the rules for big business and big special interests and against everyone else.

For many members of Congress, this fight against cronyism will not be easy. However, a commitment to basic economic fairness and equal opportunity is not only the right thing to do, it has the potential to unify and inspire hardworking families all across the country that our cronyist economy is leaving behind.

Mike Lee is U.S. Senator from Utah.

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