Dodd, Corker to work together on financial reform

Democrat Christopher Dodd, above, called his new partner, Republican Bob Corker, a
Democrat Christopher Dodd, above, called his new partner, Republican Bob Corker, a "serious thinker and a valuable asset." (Joshua Roberts/bloomberg)
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By Brady Dennis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 12, 2010

The marbled hallways of the Russell Senate Office Building were silent and empty Wednesday afternoon when a veteran Democrat and a freshman Republican met to plan their unlikely partnership.

A blizzard churned outside. The Democrat had come from his nearby Capitol Hill home. The Republican had come from lunch at Ben's Chili Bowl.

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), chairman of the Senate banking committee, was seeking a new collaborator on a landmark bill to overhaul the nation's financial regulatory system. He had grown frustrated after months of unsuccessful talks with the committee's ranking Republican, Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.).

"We were stuck," Dodd said in an interview. "I just feel like we weren't getting anywhere."

After he and Shelby reached yet another impasse last week, Dodd threatened to go it alone. But he knew that a strictly partisan bill probably would not survive a divided Senate. Also, he said, on every major bill he has worked on, he's "always had a Republican partner."

So Dodd asked Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), a first-term senator and a fellow committee member, to be that partner. Their impromptu alliance introduces unexpected drama into the debate over financial regulatory reform and is a political gamble for both men.

Dodd is eager to complete one last significant piece of legislation before he retires next year, and this latest move leaves him open to second-guessing if the bill fails or he makes compromises that liberals find unacceptable. But Corker took perhaps the larger leap of faith, breaking ranks with fellow Republicans and bucking the far more tenured Shelby to work directly with Dodd.

On Thursday, both men seemed at ease with their choice.

"What's been missing is finding someone who is willing to sit down seriously and negotiate a bill," said Dodd, who called Corker a "serious thinker and a valuable asset" to the banking committee. "There's no guarantee this thing is going to work. But I'm feeling a lot better about it today."

Corker said he called Shelby and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to inform them of his decision. He described the conversations as "collegial." Still, he said he understands that it "could be problematic" to bypass his more senior colleagues to seek a deal with Dodd. "I feel like it's an issue we need to deal with," Corker said. "A bipartisan solution is going to be far better for the American people."

A spokesman for Shelby said the senator had negotiated with Dodd based on the "unified position of committee Republicans" on several key issues, including ending assistance for "too-big-to-fail" institutions, crafting a resolution authority that prevents taxpayer-funded bailouts, modernizing derivatives regulation, and enhancing consumer protection without subordinating the soundness of our financial institutions.

"Sen. Shelby remains committed to these principles and passing legislation that achieves them," spokesman Jonathan Graffeo said.

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