Lawmakers voted overwhelmingly in favor of bringing back to life the now-expired Export-Import Bank. An amendment to revive the bank, which saw its authorization come to an end in June thanks in part to staunch opposition from conservative lawmakers, was attached to another measure that passed 67-26.
The Senate has now extended a potential lifeline to the bank via legislation that would fund federal road and bridge projects for the next six years.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., kept a promise made to Democrats earlier this year that in exchange for their support on an important trade deal, he would allow a vote on a measure to extend the bank.
Conservative Republican lawmakers oppose the bank and have called it a form of "corporate welfare" and "crony capitalism," but GOP leaders noted Sunday that many Republican and Democrat lawmakers want the bank to survive.
"I don't see any reason they should not be able to debate and then vote on this to sort it all out," McConnell said after noting there was "overwhelming bipartisan support" for the bank.
The amendment is now part of the "must-pass" highway funding measure but that does not guarantee Ex-Im will be brought back to life.
Even if the Senate passes the highway bill this week, House Republican leaders say they do not intend to take it up, in part because they don't want to deal with the Ex-Im amendment that many among conservative rank and file oppose.
House Republicans instead want the Senate to take up a five-month highway funding extension the lower chamber passed weeks ago. It does not include an extension of the bank.
Conservative Republican and libertarian-minded lawmakers and outside conservative groups have increasingly called for an end to the bank, saying that the bank is welfare to corporations like General Electric and Boeing while the burden is shouldered by taxpayers. The bank has also been mired in corruption scandals.
But backers believe the bank supports thousands of U.S. jobs that would be lost if the bank is extinguished.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Sunday the bank supports 165,000 U.S. jobs.
"A vote for that bank is a vote for jobs, a healthy economy and the prosperity of American families," Reid said.