Talks continue as GOP senators block advance of financial overhaul bill

Undaunted by a Senate setback, Democrats appear confident they will be able to take advantage of anger at Wall Street and push through the most sweeping new financial controls since the Great Depression. AP's Jerry Bodlander reports. (April 26)
By Brady Dennis and Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Republicans voted unanimously Monday to block an effort to overhaul financial regulations from reaching the Senate floor, pledging to hold out for significant changes to the bill even as they acknowledged the political risk of appearing to obstruct a popular cause.

The 57 to 41 vote in favor of beginning debate, short of the 60 needed, was expected, although Democrats did suffer an unanticipated defection when Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.) joined Republicans as a no. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) was prepared to call further votes Tuesday, Wednesday and beyond.

"We need to keep the pressure on to get a deal as quickly as possible," Reid spokesman Jim Manley said.

About two-thirds of Americans supported stricter regulations on the way banks and other financial institutions conduct their business, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll. Majorities also backed two main components of pending Senate bill: greater federal oversight of consumer loans, and a proposed fund paid for by the financial industry that would go toward dismantling failed firms that put the broader economy at risk.

Given the public support for tougher Wall Street rules, the unanimity that Republicans demonstrated Monday may not endure. GOP negotiators said their goal remains a final bill that includes enough changes that it can win broad support from both parties. But Democrats are looking to limit their concessions and say they will probably win a few conversions among Republicans who have expressed support for the overwhelming majority of the bill in its current form.

Democrats say they believe about half a dozen GOP lawmakers are open to switching their votes. They include Sens. Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.), and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa).

Grassley, a conservative who is up for reelection in November, surprised colleagues recently in voting to support strict new rules for derivatives, one of the most complex but fundamental parts of the legislation.

The 1,400-page bill would also create an agency to protect consumers against abusive lending practices, establish a council of regulators to monitor potential risks to the financial system, and give the government authority to shut down large, failing firms before they collapse.

Snowe has outlined two main concerns about the current version of the bill, including a proposed $50 billion fund to be used in liquidating distressed financial firms and restrictions on community banks that engage in certain types of small-business lending.

"There are some concerns about the legislation, and I want to make sure they're addressed," Snowe said. But she added: "We're not going to have unanimous support for this legislation."

Brown said he voted "no" Monday to allow the Senate banking committee's chairman, Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), and the panel's ranking Republican, Sen. Richard C. Shelby (Ala.), more time to rewrite several major provisions. "People want this area addressed," Brown said. "They don't want to have problems like they had before, including me."

But even as Reid pledged to hold vote after vote, some Democrats warned privately that the strategy could backfire if he appears to be short-circuiting negotiations. Snowe and Brown, along with other GOP lawmakers, complained that the Monday vote was premature.

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