In the “Schoolhouse Rock” version of how Capitol Hill works, this is what Congress does all the time — passes bills. But in the current reality defined by protracted partisan warfare, the voting has been mostly a show in which one party or the other forced a vote merely to demonstrate the other’s opposition.
With the exception of post office namings, the last measure approved by both Republicans in the House and Democrats in the Senate was signed into law by President Obama on April 5. That legislation was designed to make it easier for growing businesses to raise capital.
Amid the gridlock, Tuesday’s bill was the rarest of breeds: a lasting compromise on an issue of substance. It renewed the charter of what is commonly referred to as the Ex-Im Bank for three years and will, over that time, raise the limit on the total financing the bank can guarantee borrowers, from $100 billion to $140 billion.
The nearly 80-year-old bank makes loan guarantees to foreign buyers who seek to do business with U.S. exporters.
The House agreed to the same measure by a similarly broad 330 to 93 vote last week.
The measure was approved over the objections of some tea party conservatives who argued that the bank distorts the global marketplace and that propping up U.S. exporters is an improper role for government. But it had the backing of business and labor groups.
Depending on who’s talking, the fact that it was the Ex-Im Bank that provided the opportunity for election-year cooperation was a hopeful sign that occasional bipartisanship is still possible in Washington or further evidence of the huge influence that corporate interests continue to hold over both parties.
The bank has been reauthorized with little notice dozens of times before, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and others had been pushing Congress to do so again. The bank’s temporary authority was set to expire at the end of the month.
The groups argued that export subsidies help level the global playing field for U.S. companies competing with foreign businesses that are given significantly more support by other governments.
Proponents said the bank’s loans support 200,000 jobs at big and small companies nationwide.
“There are no Democratic or Republican exports. There are exports that create jobs. Good, middle-class jobs,” said Fred P. Hochberg, president and chairman of the Ex-Im Bank.
Both chambers have held plenty of votes in recent weeks but largely on issues embraced by only one side.
The House approved a bill that would prevent student loan rates from rising — but paid for it by eliminating funding for preventive health care. The measure can’t pass the Senate.