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Reform Bill May Inspire Democratic Battle Plan

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid meets the press Tuesday as tensions mount in the Senate over banking reform legislation.

Senate Democrats think they have figured out how to go on offense against a united GOP intent on watering down and frustrating their agenda: Make them vote. Again, and again, and again, if need be.

In what could be a template for the rest of the year, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has taken off the gloves and forced Republicans into a corner on financial reform, putting the onus on them to explain to the public why they are voting repeatedly to block debate on the bill.

That united Republican front appeared to be cracking late Tuesday amid bumpy bipartisan talks, a rash of ugly headlines and hardening Democratic resolve.

After Republicans and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) voted to block debate on the bill for a second straight day Tuesday, Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) said he would eventually switch his vote if bipartisan talks failed to make progress soon.

“Yes, of course I will,” he said, adding that he thinks GOP leaders understand his position. Voinovich pointed to the public’s desire for reform: “They want us to get something done. ... We’re genuinely trying to work something out.”

Republican moderates have squawked day after day that Reid’s decision to hold a series of cloture votes was counterproductive given that negotiations were moving forward behind the scenes between Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and ranking member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). But Democrats countered that those negotiations have been going on for months, and Republicans have only been getting serious with the bill coming to the floor and the heat of votes focusing their attention.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who played a key role working to bridge the partisan gap in committee, sounded pessimistic that a deal was likely in the offing.

“I just don’t think any time in the near future there is going to be a bipartisan agreement,” he said. Corker declined to say who was at fault — Democrats or Republicans — but said he felt the “goal posts keep moving.”

Shelby sounded more optimistic, even though he began circulating a Republican alternative proposal on banking reform. Shelby said talks between him and Dodd have narrowed to disagreements measured by inches instead of miles.

“I don’t think we can agree on everything,” Shelby said. “I think the next day or so are very important because ultimately we can’t negotiate everything. We’ll have to go to the floor.”

Dodd called it “breathtaking” that Republicans continued to block debate on the bill. “To be blocking any effort by this Congress to deal with the failures of Wall Street financial firms and the danger they put our country in is awfully difficult to explain to the American people,” he said. “They do so, in my view, at their political peril.”

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