WASHINGTON The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday voted to pass a multi-year transportation funding bill that also would revive the idled Export-Import Bank, but final provisions are subject to negotiations with the Senate.
The overwhelming 363-64 vote handed new House Speaker Paul Ryan his first legislative victory. The measure authorizes federal spending on road, bridge and rail transit infrastructure projects for six years and provides guaranteed funding for three years, about $339 billion.
Its passage takes EXIM, idled since the trade bank's charter expired on June 30, a major step closer to being put back in business offering loans and guarantees to support U.S. exports. Conservative Republican critics of the trade finance agency have argued that EXIM should be closed permanently because it provides unnecessary "corporate welfare" to elite multinationals including Boeing Co and General Electric Co.
The House bill renews EXIM's charter through Sept. 30, 2019, with some reforms. That language is identical to the text of a Senate-passed transportation bill, making EXIM nearly impossible to exclude from negotiations to work out differences between the two versions.
A number of proposed amendments aimed at curtailing the trade bank's operations were defeated, including provisions to prohibit financing help for countries with large sovereign wealth funds or for U.S. exporters whose chief executives earn more than 100 times the median U.S. wage.
A coalition of EXIM users said in a statement: "Any further changes to Ex-Im would be undermining the will of the super-majority in both chambers."
Ryan, who opposes EXIM, hailed the transport bill, which included votes on more than 100 amendments, as a sign of a "more open process" that he will foster in the House, giving members more input into legislation.
"This is a good start. It's a glimpse of how we should be doing the people's business," Ryan told a news conference.
The biggest issue to be worked out with the Senate, however, is how to pay for a funding shortfall from federal fuel taxes, which have been unchanged since 1993.
One amendment passed in the House bill would liquidate the Federal Reserve's current $29.3 billion capital surplus account and transfer the money to the Treasury to be used for transportation projects.
(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Susan Heavey and Ken Wills)