A strong coalition of establishment-backed Republicans and House Democrats voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to revive the Export-Import Bank, dealing a defeat to tea party conservatives and Speaker-to-be Paul Ryan.
The House approved the measure 313-118 as 127 Republicans joined with virtually every Democrat to support the bank, whose charter expired June 30. Since then, the bank has been unable to approve new applications to fulfill its mission of helping overseas buyers get financing to purchase U.S. exports like airplanes and heavy equipment. Supporters say the bank helps sustain tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs.
The legislation's fate is uncertain in the Senate.
Proponents of the bank forced a House vote through a rarely used procedure known as a discharge petition. They pushed a vote over the opposition of top House GOP leaders such as Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas.
But outgoing House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was a quiet supporter and did not discourage GOP proponents of the bank from pursuing the petition drive that forced the measure to the floor.
Conservative critics say the bank provides too much of its credit assistance to help huge, well-connected corporations such as The Boeing Co., General Electric and Caterpillar Inc. They say the bank finances just a fraction of U.S. exports and alternative financing options are available.
"Are we going to reward good work or good connections?" Ryan said. "I think there are plenty of other ways to expand opportunity in this country, and corporate welfare is not one of them."
Several companies have announced they have lost business because of the lapse in bank operations and are threatening to shutter plants if it isn't revived.
Democrats provided the bulk of support for the measure, another example of them driving the House agenda despite being the minority party.
"This is a bill about jobs for small, medium and large businesses. This is a bill about America's competitiveness with the rest of the world," said No. 2 House Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland.
A drive by traditionally Republican-friendly groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers focused on the assistance the bank provides to small businesses.
The Senate voted 64-29 this summer to reauthorize the bank as an amendment to an unrelated bill extending highway programs. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., however, opposes the bank and said Tuesday that he won't bring the House stand-alone measure up for a vote.
"The way to achieve Ex-Im, if it's going to be achieved in the Senate, would be in the context of the highway bill," McConnell said Tuesday.
Prospects for the bank aren't helped by the looming departure of Boehner at week's end.
Proponents say killing the bank would put U.S. businesses at a disadvantage with foreign firms that benefit from export assistance from their own governments.
But opposition to the bank has energized conservatives who see a rare opportunity to eliminate a major government program.
Hensarling resolutely refused to move the measure through the Financial Services Committee, where more than half of the panel's Republicans opposed renewing the Export-Import Bank.
Hensarling has sought to impose a conservative agenda on his committee, but he has been defeated in two major episodes. Flood-state Republicans prevailed on House leaders--over Hensarling's opposition--in 2014 to weaken reforms to the federal flood insurance program. He also failed in an effort to dramatically rewrite the government's terrorism risk insurance program when it was renewed earlier this year.