A long night hammering out financial overhaul deal

By Jia Lynn Yang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 25, 2010; 12:22 PM

As Thursday night wore on, any sense of time or space outside the Dirksen 106 conference room began to slip away. The heavy curtains were drawn, blocking a view of the long-deserted streets outside. Conference members pontificated on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as if it were 3 o'clock in the afternoon, not time for bed. And well after midnight, the room was still teeming with lobbyists and reporters all trying to figure out: What in the world was going on?

Members of the House-Senate conference committee struggled to follow any line of debate to its logical end, hopping from one topic to another. Even on issues that weren't the biggest sticking points in the bill, the members would come painfully close to an agreement, only to decide that it would be best to return to the issue -- later. Then they would take breaks, long ones, while lawmakers somewhere outside the room (but who knew where?) tried to hammer out their remaining differences on derivatives and proprietary trading.

Observers were left grasping for clues.

Deep into the night, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) kept rushing in and out of the room, his glasses perched low on his nose, looking upset. No one could tell why. In the halls, a ringleader of the New Democrats, Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.), raised her voice in frustration over some road bump in negotiations over Sen. Blanche Lincoln's (D-Ark.) derivatives proposal. Were they close? No. But why? No one knew.

The room was so warm that people began fanning themselves with pieces of paper related to the bill. Then someone cranked up the air conditioning, and it became too cold.

Yet people stayed put, packing the room all night and limiting their breaks to the stretch of hallway just outside the doors.

The back of the room was filled with lobbyists who'd been hired to watch just a few lines of language buried deep in the legislation that would have huge effects on their clients. As Hill press staffers handed out the updated sheets of paper outlining counteroffers, these lobbyists craned their necks for a view of the latest "Senate Counter to House Counter-Counteroffer."

About 12:30 a.m., one lobbyist got up from his seat, grabbed his bag and headed for the door. He muttered: "I can watch the rest of this at home on TV."

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