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US Export Bank Move a Key Step Closer to Survival

Headquarters of the Export-Import Bank in Washington, July 28, 2015.

An unusual coalition of Democrats and Republicans in Congress voted to approve the U.S. Export-Import Bank, which has been targeted for extinction by Republican conservatives.

The Ex-Im Bank sells a kind of insurance that protects U.S. exporters in case a foreign customer can not pay, which helps companies manage the risks of foreign sales. Ex-Im also provides some financing and expertise.

Ex-Im officials say businesses pay for the help they get and the Ex-Im returns billions of dollars in profits to the treasury.

But conservatives, including House Financial Services Committee chairman Jeb Hensarling, say the profits are bogus, and most of Ex-Im's aid goes to huge multi-national corporations with strong political connections. He describes the bank as "corporate welfare."

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew says the bank's aid to exports supported 164,000 U.S. jobs last year and 90 percent of its clients are small businesses.

Many other major trading nations operate export-support agencies, and bank supporters say Ex-Im is needed to give U.S. firms an even chance at sales.

Hensarling's effort to kill the bank meant the issue was bottled up in his committee, prompting supporters to use a very rare and arcane parliamentary maneuver to get a vote by the full House of Representatives over the objections of some key Republican leaders.

Rep. Gwen Moore, called Tuesday's vote in favor of Ex-Im "a victory for American workers" and thanked Republicans who joined Democrats in this vote.

The next challenge for the bank is in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opposes Ex-Im.

If Ex-Im survives the Senate, President Barak Obama is expected to sign its re-authorization.