U.S. Export-Import Bank. Credit: House Minority Whip

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives passed legislation Oct. 27 to reauthorize the U.S. Export-Import Bank, but the bill’s prospects in the Senate are uncertain.

The House voted 313–118 to pass H.R. 597, a bill that extends the bank’s authorization through fiscal year 2019 and makes reforms to the bank. The bill had broad bipartisan support, with a majority of Republican members voting with all but one Democrat in favor of the bill.

The Ex-Im Bank’s authorization lapsed July 1, meaning it has been unable to handle new transactions. That has hurt U.S. satellite manufacturers and launch services providers, who have increasingly relied on Ex-Im financing to support satellite and launch deals for international customers.

“So far, American companies have lost three space payload orders,” said David Melcher, president and chief executive of the Aerospace Industries Association, in an Oct. 27 statement. That was a reference to satellite orders that Boeing and Orbital ATK have said they have lost, or were deemed ineligible to compete for, because of a lack of Ex-Im financing.

“The Ex-Im Bank is a critical resource to help us remain globally competitive with overseas manufacturers who have access to low-cost government-backed financing through their national export credit agencies,” said Orbital ATK Chief Executive David W. Thompson in a statement from the office of Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), who voted for the bill and whose district includes Orbital ATK’s headquarters.

The House voted on the bill only after a majority of House members signed a discharge petition Oct. 9, a rarely-used mechanism to bring the bill to the House floor. The bill had been held up in the House Financial Services Committee, whose chairman, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), opposes the bank.

The bill’s future in the Senate is unclear. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he doesn’t plan to bring the bill up for a vote. However, the Senate did approve a highway bill in July that included language reauthorizing Ex-Im. The House has yet to pass its version of that bill, which will then be reconciled with the Senate bill.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...