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In Banking Fight, Corker Has Pushed for ‘Balance’

If anyone in the messy financial regulatory reform fight deserves laurels, it’s Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) — for tireless efforts to achieve bipartisanship and “balanced” legislation, and for being willing to call out both Democrats and his fellow Republicans for excessive rhetoric.

Not only — but perhaps partly — because of Corker’s importuning, the Senate might actually produce a bipartisan bill, though only after weeks of over-the-top finger-pointing.

On Monday, the former Chattanooga mayor went to the Senate floor to chide “both sides of the aisle” for “trying to herd their folks with language that ... I don’t think does justice to this issue, which is very important, very difficult and much needed in our country.”

At that point, Democrats and the Obama administration were accusing Republican leaders of trying to kill banking reform in cahoots with Wall Street, and Republicans were accusing Democrats of setting taxpayers up for “big bank bailouts.”

Corker especially took on his own side for charging that “orderly liquidation” language would prop up too-big-to-fail banks. “That’s not true,” he said.

He said he could not support the base Democratic bill because, as he told me and others in interviews, it had “a leftward tilt.” But he said most flaws in the bill could be fixed “in five minutes.”

Only the fifth-ranking Republican on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, Corker at times has been rapped by colleagues for “intruding” into the regulatory fight — and especially by Republicans for appearing too accommodating toward Democrats.

But if it had been up to Corker, financial services reform would have been addressed a lot earlier and a lot more smoothly.

Corker started working on financial reform last March, teaming up with Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) to conduct more than a dozen deep-dive seminars with financial experts on the origins of the crisis and potential solutions.

Last summer, the two co-sponsored a stopgap bill — in case Congress proved unable to produce comprehensive legislation — to empower the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to close down too-big-to-fail banks that might take the country to the brink of ruin.

The House passed its version of financial services reform in December — on a straight party-line vote — about the time that negotiations to produce a bipartisan Senate bill broke down.

Senate Banking Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) had been working with ranking member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), but their talks reached an impasse and Dodd produced his own draft bill.

At a committee hearing, Corker said he “begged” Dodd not to abandon negotiations because “the Banking Committee has been one of the few places in the Senate where there wasn’t that much partisanship, where you could [legislate] like a Senator.”

Instead of going the party-line route — at least then — Dodd formed four bipartisan panels to work on elements of the bill, with Corker and Warner assigned to handle the issues of “systemic risk” and “resolution” of troubled banks.

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