Senate Democrats yet to lock down votes for financial regulations bill

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd said all along that the bill would go down to the wire. He was right.
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd said all along that the bill would go down to the wire. He was right. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/associated Press)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Brady Dennis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 10, 2010

As he shepherded a far-reaching and ever-expanding bill to remake financial regulations through the Senate during the past year, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd uttered the same warning again and again: Nothing's finished until everything is finished.

The Connecticut Democrat's wariness persisted as he tried to maintain the legislation's core elements despite harsh criticism from Republicans, aggressive lobbying from the financial industry, demands from lawmakers holding key swing votes, defections from Democrats and an all-night negotiation session.

It persists even as the finish line is in sight.

The House last week passed the 2,300-page bill, which among other things would create an independent consumer bureau within the Federal Reserve to protect borrowers from lending abuses, establish oversight of the vast derivatives market and enable the government to wind down large, failing firms.

The Senate could hold a final vote next week. But it won't be a cakewalk. Democrats need 60 votes to overcome the threat of a GOP filibuster, and getting that could prove difficult, at least in the short term.

For starters, the recent death of Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) left Democrats minus a vote, and aides said party leaders are waiting on West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III, a Democrat, to fill the empty seat before moving forward. Even then, the math doesn't get any easier.

When the Senate passed an earlier version of the bill in May, four Republicans supported it: Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Charles Grassley of Iowa and Scott Brown of Massachusetts. Two Democrats -- Maria Cantwell of Washington and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin -- opposed it, saying it didn't go far enough.

Cantwell, pleased with changes made to provisions dealing with financial derivatives, has said she will vote for the amended bill. Collins has also voiced support.

Grassley and Brown have remained noncommittal. Both have expressed concerns about efforts to make the bill budget neutral by ending the Troubled Assets Relief Program early and applying estimated savings from the unused funds toward the cost of the bill, as well as by raising premiums paid by banks to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Democratic aides said they aren't counting on Grassley's vote but are hoping for Brown's, considering that Dodd made notable changes to the bill based on some of the freshman senator's concerns. In either case, Democrats are hoping the margin isn't as razor thin as the last time around.

"We usually need one or two more [than 60], because no one wants to be the 6oth vote," said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). But, he added, "once we have the votes lined up, we won't hesitate to go to the floor" for a final vote.

Measures dealing with unemployment insurance and small-business jobs will compete for time on the Senate floor as lawmakers return from recess. But final passage of the financial bill would hand President Obama a second big legislative victory this year, behind the health-care overhaul. Democratic lawmakers, who had hoped to secure passage before the Fourth of July, will be pushing to finish as soon as possible.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company