Financial reform bill headed to party-line vote

By Brady Dennis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 19, 2010

Two key Republican senators said Thursday that the bill introduced this week by Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) to overhaul financial regulation is headed for a strict party-line vote in the Senate banking committee unless the measure undergoes significant amendments during debate next week.

"This next week, in essence, is going to be a partisan markup," said Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), who had emerged in recent weeks as the main Republican negotiator before Dodd decided to proceed alone.

Sen. Richard C. Shelby (Ala.), the ranking Republican on the banking committee, also expressed little confidence Thursday that Dodd would win over Republicans next week but said a bipartisan agreement could materialize.

Dodd, who chairs the committee, must attract Republican support at some point during the legislative process, while also keeping Democrats on board, to cross the 60-vote threshold needed to avoid a filibuster.

Earlier this week, Dodd released a 1,336-page bill that incorporated some of the compromises he had reached with Corker. But it also included measures reining in the activity of big banks and creating an independent consumer financial protection bureau, aimed at shoring up support among Democrats who had feared he might give up too much ground.

"He was losing Democrats on the left [and] had no assurances as to Republicans he might pick up in the committee," and so he put forward a bill that "took a left turn," Corker said in remarks to the Pew Financial Reform Project. "One of the benefits is that I sort of know where he was willing to go, and hopefully we'll get back to that."

Dodd's goal, Corker said, seems to be to get the bill through the committee without Republican backing "and then make arrangements to come up with a bipartisan bill -- hopefully -- by the time it's voted on on the [Senate] floor."

Dodd plans to convene his committee Monday to begin considering any changes to the bill.

Shelby told bankers gathered for an American Bankers Association summit Thursday that he still had significant concerns about Dodd's bill. He does not support a new, independent consumer regulator, arguing instead that such responsibility should remain with regulators who oversee the safety and soundness of banks.

In an interview with CNBC before his speech, Shelby said he wouldn't rule out changes for a deal with Democrats.

"I always leave the door open a little bit, because there's always a chance once this bill hits the floor that we can work something out, and we should if we can get a good bill," Shelby said. "If we can't get a good bill, we won't support it. We shouldn't support it."

Dodd said in an interview that he wouldn't lose sleep if passing his bill through committee requires a partisan vote.

"I won't be terribly disappointed if we don't resolve it completely in committee," he said. "You've got to start someplace before you get to a compromise." He said that holding the committee's 13 Democrats mostly together has been struggle enough and that opportunities remain in the legislative process to find common ground with Republicans.

"I welcome their ideas and amendments," Dodd said, but he said that even if they don't bridge all their differences in committee, Democrats have a "responsibility as a governing body in the Senate to put out a bill the whole Senate can work on."

Dodd has been eager to get a bill through the Senate as soon as possible, both because he is in his final year in office and because Democrats are facing potentially tough midterm elections in November.

"A lot of what this is about is leverage to get your best deal," Edward Yingling, ABA president, said at the summit. "So it's in the interest of the Republicans to slow things down, because that gives them more leverage to negotiate. It's in the interest of Senator Dodd to go ahead and get this bill out of committee."

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