WASHINGTON -- An attempt to renew the now-expired Export-Import Bank gained approval in the Senate late Monday night, but the future of the bank remains uncertain as conservative opposition continues to prevail in the House. Conservatives, who failed to rally enough support in the Senate to block the bank, must now turn to the House to continue their efforts to sink the obscure agency.
The Senate voted 64-29, which was more than the 50 votes needed, to renew the bank. The vote was taken in the form of an amendment to legislation that will provide long-term funding to highway, bridge and transit projects known as the Highway Trust Fund, which was the product of bipartisan negotiations. The opposition came largely from Republicans, led by presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who were also joined by Sen. Bernie Sanders (Ind-Vt.), a Democratic presidential candidate.
But despite the overwhelming vote in the Senate, the future of the bank, which expired on July 1, remains in limbo. By attaching the renewal to another piece of legislation, supporters are now dependent on that bill moving out of the Senate and onto the House floor.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) squashed that idea on Monday, telling a group of reporters that there are no plans to put the Senate highway bill up for a vote in the House. The lower chamber is scheduled to leave Washington on Thursday for a month-long recess, meaning they will not vote on the bill until at least September, if at all.
That also spells trouble for the Highway Trust Fund, which expires at the end of July. Two weeks ago the House passed a short-term extension of the highway funding, which would keep projects funded through December. But so far, the Senate has shown no sign of willingness to take up the short-term legislation.
The bank was allowed to expire at the end of June after Congress failed to act on legislation to renew the bank’s charter. Conservatives, led by a group in the House, made a deliberate effort to prevent renewal legislation from receiving a vote -- a strategic move driven by the fact that the bank likely has enough votes to gain reauthorization.
The bank remains a rather esoteric agency that is responsible for issuing loans to foreign entities who are purchasing American-made goods, like airplanes and tractors. But it has gained the ire of a group of conservatives who have worked to kill the bank, arguing that it amounts to “corporate welfare” and puts the taxpayer at risk. Supporters of the bank argue it keeps American companies competitive in the global marketplace and ultimately costs the taxpayer nothing because the bank operates with fees collected from loans.
President Barack Obama -- who once spoke out in opposition of the bank but now supports its renewal -- has said that any highway bill should include a reauthorization of the bank.
Supporters of the bank cheered the Senate vote. Even if it ultimately doesn’t result in renewing the bank, it was a strong symbolic win proving there are more than enough votes in the Senate.
“Tonight’s overwhelming bipartisan vote puts the Export-Import Bank one step closer to getting back to work for Ohio businesses of all sizes and their supply chain,” said Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, the top Democrat on the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. “Before it leaves for the August recess, the House of Representatives needs to have a vote that permits the bank’s renewal to be sent to President Obama and signed into law. U.S. workers and businesses must have a fair chance to go head-to-head with foreign competitors.”