House minority leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). (Shawn Thew / EPA )
WASHINGTON — A rare bipartisan compromise is expected to break a logjam over reauthorizing the nation's Export-Import Bank — a critical issue for the business community but one ensnarled in opposition from tea party Republicans.
House GOP leaders made the unusual move of reaching across the aisle to broker a deal with Democrats that would allow the bank to continue lending to U.S. firms that export their products. The House approved the deal 330-93 on Wednesday, and the Senate is expected to consider it quickly.
"Today we are ending the uncertainty for American manufacturers waiting for Congress to act by coming together," said Rep. Steny Hoyer(D-Md.), the minority leader.
The compromise, crafted by Hoyer and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), resolved questions about the bank's future that arose when conservative Republicans took aim at what they have called a corporate welfare fund.
The bank's current lending authority is set to expire May 31. Commerce Secretary John Bryson has said that allowing the bank to close would be "unacceptable."
Under the agreement, the bank's lending ability would be reauthorized through Sept. 30, 2014, and its capacity would rise from today's $100-billion limit to $140 billion in fiscal 2014.
The increased authority would be contingent on the bank's maintaining default rates below 2% in coming years.
Moving the bill toward passage enables Republicans and Democrats to claim an election-year victory in the realm of job creation, a vital topic among voters heading toward the fall elections.
Lending by the bank helped to facilitate more than $40 billion in export sales last year, allowing some 3,600 private companies to generate nearly 300,000 jobs, according to the bank.
Still, Wednesday's vote exposed divisions among Republicans. The Chamber of Commerce pushed for the legislation, while conservative groups urged lawmakers to vote against the bill.
Opponents of reauthorizing the bank argued that the federal government should not meddle in the marketplace, noting that the bank has supported Hollywood by giving loans for foreign distribution of independent films made in the U.S.
Conservatives often call the Export-Import institution the "Bank of Boeing" because it has helped foreign airlines buy Boeing aircraft, which they use to compete with domestic carriers.
A similar proposal was shot down this year in the Senate when lawmakers tried to attach it to a small-business bill.
"Not only should members of Congress reject this expansion of authority, but they should reject the bank's charter and shut it down for good," the conservative Club for Growth said in an alert to lawmakers.
More Democrats than Republicans in the House ultimately voted for the measure, giving it the two-thirds majority needed for passage.