By Vicki Needham - 12/03/15 01:51 PM EST
The House on Thursday took a step toward reviving the Export-Import Bank, by voting to renew the embattled institution's funding as part of a five-year federal transportation spending measure.
House lawmakers easily passed a $305 billion highway bill on a 359-65 vote, sending the conference report to the Senate where it is expected to pass before federal road spending runs out on Friday. President Obama intends to sign the bill.
Debate over the bank’s future generated heated debate between business groups urging renewal of the 81-year-old institution, and conservatives who wanted Ex-Im shuttered.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), who worked with Republicans over the summer to bring the bill to the floor, told The Hill in a phone interview ahead of the vote that renewing Ex-Im is “certainly an example of what the two parties can do but is not the only example."
For months, Hoyer had urged Republican leadership to consider reauthorization legislation, arguing that Ex-Im had the support of not only almost every Democrat but the majority of the Republican Party.
“Frankly, the Republican majority had been thwarted by leadership, so this is a unique example of the parties working together,” Hoyer said.
Hoyer tipped his hat to Republican Reps. Stephen Fincher (Tenn.) and Frank Lucas (Okla.) for having the "courage" to lead the charge in gathering support for a rare procedural move that forced a floor vote.
Hoyer, in fact, said he was surprised by the willingness of Fincher, Lucas and other members, such as Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.), to lobby their colleagues to support the discharge petition, a rarely used legislative maneuver used to force action on the bill in the divided House.
As a result, the chamber easily passed the Ex-Im renewal via a 313-118 vote last month, with 127 Republicans backing the bank’s reauthorization. The vote provided clear evidence of support for the bill.
But even after that overwhelming House vote, it became clear that the bank, which helps U.S. companies finance oversees projects, still needed a viable vehicle to travel to President Obama’s desk.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he had no plans to consider the House-passed measure and that the legislation would have to gain final congressional approval as part of the transportation spending bill.
In the end, House and Senate conferees on the highway measure decided, in an agreement inked earlier this week, to retain the Ex-Im provisions, likely giving the bank life through fiscal 2019.
“While other countries have been securing large export deals, American companies have been placed at a competitive disadvantage — forced to compete globally with one hand tied behind their back," Fincher said in a statement.
In the summer of 2014, Fincher was among several Republicans who voiced support for extending the charter of the Ex-Im as long as a new bill included several reforms saying they thought conservative criticism of the bank was overblown.
Fincher, a member of the House Financial Services Committee, introduced a bill in January that came out of the gate with 58 cosponsors.
“Today’s vote puts us one step closer to ensuring our exporters have a seat at the table and are able to compete on a level playing field with other nations," Fincher said in a statement.
Dold said, "Too often, politicians in Washington forget that their political posturing hurts real people.
“That’s why I set aside politics and helped lead the effort to reopen the Export-Import Bank,” he added.
Republicans including House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas) and Speaker Paul Ryan (Wis.) have said the bank represents "crony capitalism" and needed to be closed permanently to lessen taxpayer exposure.
The Club for Growth and Heritage Action joined those Republicans, calling for lawmakers to oppose the transportation conference report for several reasons, one of which was the Ex-Im reauthorization.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers urged lawmakers to back the broad-ranging compromise, putting them on notice that they would key vote — or take particular account of votes — on the highway measure.
Reauthorizing Ex-Im caps off two years of work to renew the bank’s charter, including five long months of a full-court press, since the bank effectively closed for any new business at the end of June.
“We showed that a determined majority of Democrats and Republicans who work together will ultimately prevail,” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee, said on the House floor.
Waters said the four-year reauthorization of the bank “is absolutely necessary and essential to assure that U.S. businesses both large and small can operate and survive in the global marketplace.”
Hoyer said reviving the bank gives U.S. exporters the confidence they need to hire and maintain their competitive global presence.
But there was still plenty of discontent rippling over the bank's new life.
Noah Wall, national director of grassroots with FreedomWorks, argued that predictions by supporters of the bank that the agency's closing would damage the economy never came to fruition.
“Obviously, these Chicken Littles were proven wrong," Wall said.
"The sky didn’t fall, the economy didn’t crash, and taxpayers were better off without having to bear the burden of risky loans doled out to politically connected corporations and Beltway insiders.”