An obscure government bank loathed by conservatives but backed by business now has enough Republican support to win reauthorization before it expires this fall, according to a TIME vote count.
The fight over the Export-Import bank—which provides billions of dollars in loans, loan guarantees and credit insurance to help foreigners purchase U.S. goods.—has divided small-government conservatives and more business-friendly establishment Republicans, with one top conservative even calling it a “defining issue” for the GOP. But after months of uncertainty, a sufficient number Republicans in both the House and Senate support reauthorization—if House leaders allow a vote to come to the floor.
Of the 23 current Senate Republicans who voted to extend the charter in 2012, five members—Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.)—have indicated publicly or to TIME that they support the bank. Freshman Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) supports the bank, as does Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who did not vote on the 2012 legislation but is working with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) on a bill to reauthorize its charter. Assuming all 53 Democratic Senators vote for the reauthorization, the Senate has enough votes to keep the bank alive.
And with 41 House Republicans supporting reauthorization in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner late last month, the GOP-controlled chamber also has enough votes when widespread Democratic support is included. If the Democratic-controlled Senate tied the fate of the bank to a short-term spending resolution to keep the government open, which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is considering, House Republicans would have to make the difficult choice of whether or not to shut the government down to block a bank few Americans have heard of. That seems unlikely, with even Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), a fierce opponent, estimating recently that only “1 in 1,000” have ever heard of the bank, and with memories of last year’s government shutdown and the damage it did to the party’s poll numbers still fresh.
One major question remains how Senate Republicans who support the bank want to reform it.
“I stand where I always have,” Alexander told TIME. “I think it needs some reforms but I’m in favor of it.”
When pressed on how he is looking to reform the bank, Alexander replied, “I’m reviewing that right now.”
Alexander’s response was echoed by several others.
“Senator Portman believes we should do everything possible to support American exporters, and not give a leg up to countries like China by unilaterally disarming our export finance system,” Ohio Sen. Rob Portman spokeswoman Christyn Keyes said. “That said, it’s crucial that we take steps to protect taxpayers and that we take a hard look at any needed reforms.”
“Sen. Isakson supports reauthorizing Ex-Im, but would like to see some reforms,” Isakson spokeswoman Amanda Maddox told TIME.
Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), who voted to extend the bank’s charter in 2012, will vote to support the bank again, so long as Reid allows senators to offer amendments, Johanns spokesman Nick Simpson told TIME.