In adopting a six-year transportation bill to fund highway and transit projects Thursday, the House also approved the revival of the Export-Import Bank, which has been idle since its charter expired in June.
A similar bill has already been approved by the Senate, including a provision that renews the Ex-Im Bank's charter. Before the legislation goes to President Obama, the two chambers will have to iron out differences between the two bills.
Titled the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act, the House measure authorizes up to $325 billion in spending to repair and replace America's roads, bridges and rails — but it only provides funding for the first half of the bill's six-year window.
NPR's David Schaper reports:
"After 35-short term extensions over the last several years, this long-awaited long term transportation spending plan does provide state and local planners with needed certainty that some federal funding will be flowing for the next three years.
"But critics point out that with no increase in the federal gas tax and no other new funding sources, this bill just holds spending on highway and transit construction projects flat, even though costs are rising."
The House's version of the bill doesn't include limitations on the Ex-Im Bank, an entity that had been targeted by conservative Republicans who said it amounted to "corporate welfare," as NPR's Jim Zarroli reported last week.
"Created during the Depression, the Ex-Im Bank provides insurance and loan guarantees to overseas buyers of American products," Jim said. He added, "The bank also provides guarantees to U.S. companies doing business overseas to ensure they get paid."
After its charter lapsed, the Ex-Im Bank posted a note to its website explaining that it would attempt to manage a "$107 billion portfolio of outstanding obligations" until it is back in business.
When it approved the transportation measure, the Senate did so by a 64-29 vote. The House approved its version by a vote of 363-64, but not before holding votes on more than 80 amendments — a process The Wall Street Journal says was the first test of new House Speaker Paul Ryan's "inclusive leadership style."
Some of the amendments that were defeated, Reuters says, "would have prohibited financing help [from the Ex-Im Bank] for countries with sovereign wealth fund assets of more than $100 billion or involving U.S. exporters whose chief executives earn more than 100 times the median U.S. wage."