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The Obama administration has repeatedly sought to get the biggest financial firms to pay for the cost of the Wall Street and auto bailouts, but it hasn't been able to get Congress to go along. The latest version, which was included in Obama's September deficit reduction plan as well as his proposed budget, would raise $30 billion over the next decade.
Several Republicans, including Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.), made the elimination of a similar bank tax a condition of their support for the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill. Those issues are expected to become major focus points in Brown's potential Senate matchup with reform champion and consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren. Warren is seeking the Democratic nomination to run against Brown next year. Bringing up the idea again could put pressure on the GOP heading into an election year, one Democratic aide said.
Several Republicans said they oppose Obama's financial responsibility fee, including Thune, Senate Finance ranking member Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Senate Banking ranking member Richard Shelby (Ala.).
"I'm not advocating penalties or additional fees for banks right now," said Shelby, who noted that he opposed the bailouts in the first place. The focus now needs to be on "how we can get this economy going," he said.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said he doesn't think any taxes have much of a chance — including ones on the biggest Wall Street banks. "They've drawn a line in the sand," he said of the GOP.
Levin said it's not a reflection on Obama that he can't get his agenda through Congress.
"He doesn't have a parliament" like European countries, Levin noted. "That's just a fact of life," he said, but that doesn't mean the policies he's advocating don't make sense.
But Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said Congress's gridlock is hurting the standing of the United States. It "hurts us all over the world. It makes us a laughingstock."
Michael Froman, deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs, contended at the Monday White House briefing that the nation's allies still expect the United States to lead.
"The U.S. is the largest economy in the world. We are a very important market to China and others. ... We're the center of innovation. We have a great network of alliances around the world that no other country has. ... In the G-20 and the other forums that we're involved in, I'm struck by the degree to which other countries very much look to the U.S. for leadership, thought leadership and leadership on action, to ensure a way to resolve global problems."
The administration still has clout through the International Monetary Fund, too, which is partially funded by the United States, although the White House has pushed the European Union to resolve its debt crisis largely within its own borders.
"It remains the case that the Europeans have the capacity to deal with this crisis, and they need to implement the very important decisions they made last week to provide a conclusive resolution to it," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday, amid concerns that Greece could still blow up an agreement.