WASHINGTON, July 30 (Reuters) - A bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced a bill to keep the Export-Import Bank open for another five years on Wednesday, although the export lender's future remains uncertain given a conservative campaign to close it down.
The 80-year-old bank will be forced to close unless Congress acts to renew its charter by Sept. 30, but critics led by Texas congressman Jeb Hensarling have decried it as corporate welfare.
Supporters say the bank, which offers financing to foreign buyers of U.S. goods and support for U.S. exporters, is vital for small businesses as well as large firms such as aerospace giant Boeing and heavy equipment manufacturers such as General Electric and Caterpillar.
"The Ex-Im Bank creates jobs and helps U.S. businesses, big and small, sell their products overseas at no cost to the federal government," said Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from coal-producing West Virginia, who introduced the bill along with fellow Democrats Joe Donnelly, Mark Warner, Maria Cantwell, Tim Johnson and Tim Kaine and Republicans Mark Kirk and Roy Blunt.
Manchin split off a proposal to ease restrictions on Ex-Im financing for overseas coal-fired plants, which other Democrats had opposed. That amendment would be introduced separately, his office said in a statement.
A senior Senate aide said the chamber would try to get to the bill when lawmakers returns from a five-week summer recess.
If it passes the Democrat-controlled Senate, there is no guarantee a reauthorization bill will come up before the Republican-controlled House, given opposition from senior Republicans including incoming House majority leader Kevin McCarthy as well as Hensarling.
The bill would slightly raise the bank's lending cap to $160 billion from $140 billion over a four-year period and require the Bank to report to Congress on its business plan and risk exposure. (Reporting by Richard Cowan; Writing by Krista Hughes; Editing by Ken Wills)