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Road Map: Financial Reform Still in Flux

Senators Send Mixed Signals

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Neither Senate Democrats nor Republicans seem all that confident that they have identified a winning strategy when it comes to the upcoming financial regulatory reform debate.

Though Democratic leaders claim they are willing to bring the bill to the floor as soon as Thursday with or without GOP support, they are also relying on a full-court press by the White House and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to recruit the crucial Republican votes that they need to overcome a threatened GOP filibuster.

Republican leaders contend their 41 Members are united against the package and prepared to make good on that threat if Democrats don’t change it to their liking. On Monday, Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs ranking member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said: “I think Republicans will hang together right now, and I’m not sure Sen. Reid would want to push a vote.”

But privately GOP aides acknowledge that the vote count is far from certain. And Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) hinted the Republicans did not necessarily have the commitment of all GOP Senators to block the bill from coming up.

“We have 41 Senators who want to play a part in a bill that should be a bipartisan bill,” Alexander said, adding that the bill would need to be bipartisan “either before it goes on the floor or before it goes off the floor.” The No. 3 GOP leader said he is meeting with Geithner today.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appeared to soften his rhetoric on the bill Monday, noting on the floor that it could be massaged to win GOP support. McConnell had earlier been using strong language to suggest Democrats need to take a step back and return to the negotiating table, rather than push a partisan, “bailout” bill.

“These problems are not insurmountable. This bill is not unfixable,” McConnell said.

The 59-member Democratic Conference needs 60 votes to beat back a filibuster — or invoke cloture — on a motion to proceed to the bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) could file a cloture motion on the bill as soon as Thursday, aides said. That would likely set up a vote for Monday.

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