WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate voted on Sunday to advance legislation that would revive the federal Export-Import Bank, whose charter expired on June 30 and was not renewed by Congress, with conservative Republicans pushing to shut down the bank for good.
By a vote of 67-26, the Senate, in a rare Sunday session, limited debate on a measure that would reauthorize the federal credit agency through Sept. 30, 2019. Sixty votes of support were needed to keep the initiative alive.
The vote demonstrated the Senate's strong backing for bringing Ex-Im back to life, but its future remains in doubt.
The Republican-controlled Senate still must vote on whether to attach the measure to revive the bank, which helps U.S. exporters, to an unrelated bill on highway and mass transit funding.
Even if that occurs in the coming days, it is not clear whether the House of Representatives would embrace the bill, with its controversial Ex-Im provision.
"We are one step closer to keeping American jobs here in America and not lost to countries like China," Republican Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois said after voting in favor of advancing the legislation.
Conservative Republicans, many of them in the House, have targeted Ex-Im for extinction, claiming it provides corporate welfare to U.S. companies such as Boeing Co and General Electric Co.
The Obama administration and many Democrats and Republicans in Congress support the bank, saying it helps American companies, large and small, compete against foreign firms whose governments provide loan guarantees or other supports.
The White House has argued that U.S. companies and workers would be disadvantaged without the Ex-Im Bank, and that firms in countries like China would step in and win new business.
Congress' refusal to renew Ex-Im's charter by the end of last month meant it no longer could make new loans. Unless Congress acts, the bank will have to shut its doors on Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, when its administrative budget expires.
Before the Ex-Im vote, the Senate rejected another Republican-backed effort to advance a measure to repeal President Barack Obama's 2010 healthcare law, widely known as Obamacare.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by John Whitesides; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Paul Simao)