The Senate passed legislation reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank on Tuesday after voting down five amendments that would have limited the program's scope and power.
The passage of the bill, in a 78-20 vote, sends the legislation to President Obama, who is expected to sign the reauthorization, which runs through September 2014.
"I’m pleased that Members of Congress from both parties have come together to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank," Obama said in a statement. "This important step will help American businesses create jobs here at home and sell their products around the world — all at no cost to taxpayers."
The reauthorization also ends an unexpectedly long fight on Capitol that divided the Republican Party.
The Export-Import Bank is generally considered a noncontroversial bill, but it came under attack this year from conservatives who argued it was a form of corporate welfare that distorted free trade.
The Club for Growth was among the groups that urged Republicans to oppose reauthorizing the bank’s charter. Ninety-three Republicans voted against the reauthorization in the House, and 19 Republicans voted against it on Tuesday. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) also voted against the bill.
"We need to end the corporate welfare that distorts the market and feeds crony capitalism," Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said in a floor speech. Lee sponsored one of the amendments that sought to impose restrictions on the bank.
"The corporations that largely benefit from the Ex-Im bank should have no trouble marshaling their resources to compete in today's economy. If they are struggling, then they are most likely not deserving of taxpayer help," Lee said.
Lee’s amendment, which was rejected, would have terminated the bank a year after the reauthorization.
The other amendments would have limited the bank's financing of certain products, stopped the bank from lending to projects in countries that held government debt instruments, funded the bank only if there was progress in talks to end it and kept the bank from funding energy projects that competed with similar projects in the United States, respectively.
Other Republicans defended the bank, saying it was necessary for the United States to compete in the global economy. They noted that other countries have similar state-run enterprises that give their home companies an edge.
"Now it's one thing to reform, it's another thing to unilaterally surrender," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Tuesday. "So to those who would want to end the bank without other countries doing so, I think you would be doing a disservice to this country."
Business groups and conservative groups were similarly divided over renewing the bank, which encourages companies to buy U.S. goods overseas. While the Club for Growth opposed it, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups offered support. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was able to move the legislation toward passage on Monday by agreeing to votes on the five Republican amendments. Reid also agreed to a 60-vote threshold on each amendment as well as the final bill.
Senate Democrats were visibly frustrated at the lengths it took to win passage. On Tuesday Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said the five amendments were just the GOP's way of trying to kill the bank all together.
"These amendments that are all trying to gut the Export-Import Bank would send this back to the House when we really, really need to send this to the president's desk," Cantwell said.
Reid and other Senate Democrats grumbled throughout the chamber's consideration of the bill, Tea Party Republicans were holding up legislation that otherwise would have passed quickly.
"As I indicated, in earlier days the Senate would have passed this by unanimous consent as we've done before — this same legislation — but these days the far-right Tea Party wing of the Senate Republican caucus — I used to just talk about the House wing of the Republican caucus, who think that everything has to be a fight," Reid said last week, shortly after Re[publicans blocked an effort to advance the bill.
Reid also repeatedly noted that the reauthorization had Republican support. GOP leaders in the House voted for the reauthorization, for example.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that Republican opposition to reauthorizing the bank had to do with a lack of input from the Senate GOP.
"Give us an opportunity to play a role in the process, and we'll work together on bipartisan solutions," McConnell said. "Just look at the record: When Democrats blocked all debate and amendments on the Export-Import bank legislation, it went nowhere. When they agreed to our reasonable request for input on the bill, that changed. They could've accepted this offer much earlier, but they didn't because it didn't fit the storyline."
—This story was last updated at 6:12 p.m.