Financial bill in limbo going into key vote

By Brady Dennis
Monday, April 26, 2010

Senators will face a crucial test vote Monday that could clear the way for debate on far-reaching legislation to overhaul the nation's financial regulatory system -- or end in a partisan standoff -- as Wall Street once again takes center stage on Capitol Hill.

Elsewhere, lawmakers will be preparing to condemn the alleged sins of Wall Street's past and also wrestling over how to prevent such excesses in the future. Top executives from Goldman Sachs, beset by charges that the bank misled its clients by selling them mortgage investments secretly designed to fail, will face questions Tuesday about how the firm profited from betting against the U.S. housing market.

Senate Republicans said Sunday they plan to block efforts to move forward with an overhaul bill unless Democrats alter central elements of the legislation. Meanwhile, Democrats and Obama administration officials spent much of the day finalizing strict new rules to rein in the huge derivatives trade, including measures that could threaten profits at some of the biggest banks.

Despite optimism on both sides that a bipartisan compromise will emerge, the lack of a deal has increased the chances of at least a temporary showdown between the two parties.

Democrats need support from at least one Republican to reach the 60 votes required to overcome a filibuster and proceed with formal debate on the bill. Republicans angling for changes do not appear ready to relinquish that bargaining chip.

"It's my expectation that we will not go forward with this partisan bill tomorrow," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on "Fox News Sunday." "It's not ready yet."

The lead GOP negotiator on the bill carried that same message to NBC's "Meet the Press."

"I think that nothing happens between now and tomorrow, that the Democrats will not get cloture," Sen. Richard C. Shelby (Ala.) said in an appearance alongside Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), chairman of the banking committee.

Republican and Democratic aides said they expect the Monday vote to fail unless at least one GOP senator supports the measure. Not that either side would mind terribly: Democrats could say the GOP is standing in the way of reform, and Republicans could say the bill's flaws would cause the economy more harm than good.

Still, the measure's long-term prospects seem promising. Aides on both sides said they expect it to remain in limbo until Shelby and Dodd strike a deal or end talks. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) could then move to revive the bill, possibly within days, although negotiations could extend longer.

Dodd and Shelby exhibited Sunday the differing tones that have epitomized their months of on-again, off-again negotiations.

Dodd was animated, clearly eager to complete the legislation. "We need to move forward," he said. "Tomorrow, if another crisis occurred in the country, we're no better off than we were in the fall of 2008."

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