It’s Déjà Vu for Corker, Democrats

Posted March 13, 2010 at 11:00am

Updated: 3:37 p.m.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) last week said he was within the five-yard line of brokering a bipartisan deal on financial regulatory reform before “the lights went out.” But the rookie lawmaker has had trouble carrying a deal across the goal line in the past.

Corker’s efforts on financial reform are eerily similar to the auto industry bailout deal that he attempted to broker in 2008. And it appears the specter of ’08 played a role in Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Chris Dodd’s (D-Conn.) decision to push ahead on his own financial regulatory measure.

Dodd announced Thursday that he would unveil his proposal Monday, setting the stage for a markup in one week. Both Dodd and Corker said talks would continue, but the Republican was clearly stung and criticized Dodd’s move.

Banking aides say Dodd was privately concerned whether Corker, a junior Member who lacks clout within the Republican caucus, would be able to woo any of his GOP colleagues to vote for the bill. In 2008, the auto bailout talks collapsed after Corker was unable to persuade any other Republicans to sign on.

GOP Senators acknowledged recently that they were not inclined to support Corker’s efforts on financial regulation, noting they were still looking to ranking member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.).

“Sen. Shelby is going to have to bless this,” freshman Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) said a week before Dodd announced he was moving ahead. “He’s given us so much opportunity to have influence on the product.”

The situation parallels Corker’s move in late 2008, when he injected himself into discussions on how to save the auto industry from financial collapse. He offered a proposal that was rejected by his Republican colleagues, and ultimately, talks between both parties dissolved and the Senate never addressed the issue with legislation.

A GOP aide said of those talks: “The ’08 talks collapsed when the unions refused to make concessions.”

“It’s not at all fair or accurate to say Sen. Corker signed onto a deal and couldn’t sell it to the caucus,” the aide added. “He didn’t sign on to anything because it was bad deal.”

More recently, Corker entered talks with Dodd on financial regulatory reform and repeatedly vowed he would provide the 60th vote for legislation to prevent a financial meltdown like the one that rocked Wall Street in 2008. But after four weeks of intense negotiations, Dodd said he was moving ahead without a bipartisan deal.

Democrats were growing uncomfortable with the bipartisan talks, particularly after news leaked that Dodd and Corker wanted to house the consumer agency within the Federal Reserve. Democrats were also irritated that Corker was publicly talking substance with reporters before a deal was even announced.

“What I think is, Republicans again are doing the bidding of the banks and the bidding of [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell [R-Ky.],” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), a Banking panel member, said Thursday after Dodd’s announcement. “All they want to do is delay.”

Despite those misgivings, talks between Dodd and Corker continue, and both stressed at separate press conferences Thursday that they were intent on reaching bipartisan consensus on financial regulatory reform.

“Each week we let it slip a little bit because we thought we could get further along,” Dodd said Thursday of his ongoing talks with Corker. “But we’re facing what I call the 101st Senator, and that’s what I call the clock.”

But as Dodd noted the diminishing timeline to pass financial reform, Corker blamed the health care reform drive for a rushed process.

Corker said Dodd’s timeline, culminating with a March 22 markup, is unreasonable.

“This is a very important bill, and I cannot imagine a committee member, Republican or Democrat, voting to pass this bill in a week,” Corker said. “If Senators can pass a bill of this substance in a week, a 1,200-page bill … then the states that elect them might as well elect robots.”