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This is what government looks like when you let something rot from within. And the decay, without quick action in the U.S. House, could have serious implications for Illinois.

For months, anti-government, right-wing Republicans have waged a surprise war against the Export-Import Bank, a federal lending firm that provided financing for businesses looking to export. Private lenders aren't too hot on handing out loans to companies dealing with, say, less-than stable nations in East Africa. So, the Ex-Im bank had, until recently, been unanimously re-affirmed 16 consecutive times.

That all changed earlier this year when the Ex-Im became the newest whipping boy for the Heritage Foundation and tea party members of Congress.

It's "corporate welfare," they said. And promptly blocked any bill that would extend the Ex-Im charter for a 17th term. 

Tea party insurgents ignored years worth of audits showing the Ex-Im is a rare government institution that makes money. Its default rate is almost non-existent. And, to top it all off, almost every developed country has an equivalent agency. Boeing, a major employer in St. Louis, was especially outraged when the Ex-Im went dark on July 1. Its biggest competitor, Airbus, is partially owned by the French government, making financing needed to fill orders always available. More than 400 businesses in Illinois, often small ones, have relied on the Ex-Im through the years, said Mark Denzler of the Illinois Manufacturers' Association. Caterpillar is a regular Ex-Im customer. 

And that's why Sen. Mark Kirk is carrying the Senate bill to keep it breathing, which is stalled unless the rancorous House GOP breaks its stalemate. The House could vote as early as this week. Some 46,000 jobs are at stake, should Ex-Im continue to go without a charter, Kirk said. 

Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, has also taken heat from the GOP right-wing for his support of Ex-Im. And, like so many of his more centrist colleagues, he's getting a little tired of the tea party's non-stop threats to oust anyone who doesn't submit to its gospel.

"That 30, under no circumstances are they willing to compromise," Bost told me this month, while discussing the tea party's House Freedom Caucus ouster of Speaker John Boehner. "But why would you threaten the operation of government?"

The GOP's fanatical right-wing have also scuttled, at least for now, a hugely successful environmental program. 

On Oct. 1, the Land and Water Conservation Fund lost funding amid tea party turmoil and regional political disputes. 

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And the result for Southern Illinois? A generally popular 800-acre expansion of the Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge is on hold. 

Kirk and Bost have been "noticeably absent" from decrying the right-wing assault on the fund, said Caren Benjamin, a spokeswoman for the Wilderness Society.

Anti-federal sentiment, which has bubbled for decades in the American West, boiled over and threatens to kill the fund. Right-wing factions in a dozen Western states want to seize federal land, even while the various attorneys general say its neither legal nor economically feasible. "They want to "take back our land," proponents say. Unfortunately, since the federal government existed a century before states in the West, it was never theirs to begin with.

A fractured GOP has run its own leader out of town. It has angered business by attacking the Ex-Im. It is waging a war on an otherwise non-controversial wildlife fund because Utah doesn't like the U.S. Forest Service. 

Tea party power in the House has grown over the past five years, even while its numbers remain tiny. They've waged primary election assaults on the non-compliant. They've splintered the GOP with religious zeal. They're successfully deconstructing government from within. 

And the crusade might soon be felt in a location near you. 

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Jon Alexander is opinion page editor at The Southern. He can be reached at jonathan.alexander@the southern.com.

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