Corker Out on a Limb on Financial Reform

Posted March 3, 2010 at 6:45pm

Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) is headed full bore into a bipartisan deal on a financial regulatory reform bill with Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), but it’s not at all clear that Corker’s fellow Republicans will back him.

GOP Senators said Corker’s blessing is not enough to ensure they will support it, noting they are still looking to ranking member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) for the OK.

“Sen. Shelby is going to have to bless this,” freshman Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) said. “He’s given us so much opportunity to have influence on the product.”

Dodd began negotiating with Corker last month after talks with Shelby reached an impasse, specifically over details of a consumer protection agency that would be created under the bill. A proposal floated by Dodd and Corker earlier this week to place the agency inside the Federal Reserve was largely panned on both sides of the aisle, prompting Shelby to bring a counteroffer to Dodd on Wednesday that could be the linchpin to striking the bipartisan agreement Dodd has sought for over a year.

“Let’s see what the end results are,” Shelby said when asked whether Corker is isolated. “I think we’re better off if we all hang together and work together, but the end goal is a good piece of legislation and any Senator can be a Senator first, I guess. … I try to work within the caucus, myself.”

Shelby added that he and other Republicans are urging Corker to work within the caucus as well.

“At this point, he appears to be by himself but if he’s working toward the similar goal that we share I think that’s good,” Shelby said.

Corker has vowed to be the 60th vote on financial regulatory reform but often has noted that if he can reach an agreement with Dodd, a handful of Republicans would likely sign on as well. Still, Corker’s bold move to usurp the panel’s ranking member has not bought him praise among party leaders, nor have his GOP colleagues on the committee publicly rallied behind him.

Asked if he felt he was too far out on a limb, Corker responded: “On every issue, there’s always a little something going on. But generally speaking, I’ve been checking in” with leadership and fellow Banking panel Republicans such as Shelby and Sen. Judd Gregg (N.H.).

“There’s been some tweaks offered that I think are good ones,” Corker told reporters, referencing Shelby’s counterproposal. “The last 12 to 14 hours have been very good from my standpoint.”

Added Corker: “I think we’re on the verge, if we keep our heads down, we’re on the verge of getting lots of Republican support.”

Corker said he has been trying to vet his decisions with fellow Republicans, but he also acknowledged that most of his time has been spent negotiating with Democrats.

Republican sources have said Members are waiting to see the final product negotiated by Dodd and Corker before they offer their support. One GOP Member on the Banking Committee predicted that Dodd might have to resolve some issues during the markup, likely later this month, and continue working with Shelby as the bill nears the floor.

Corker, a first-term Senator eager to make his mark on comprehensive legislation, indicated that ruffling a few feathers on the way to a bipartisan deal was to be expected.

“If you really read the [newspaper] clips, it looks like we’ve made every group in America upset, so it looks like we’re getting to the sweet spot,” Corker joked. He added, “I really think that today I’m the most optimistic that I’ve ever been that something is being developed that can win bipartisan support. I really believe that.”