Dodd Woos Democratic, GOP Votes

Posted March 17, 2010 at 6:56pm

Nearly every Senator agrees in theory that financial regulatory reform needs to be addressed this year, but Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) is finding it difficult to turn that into actual “yes” votes, especially from Republicans.

Dodd is continuing to negotiate with Banking ranking member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and committee Democrats, though it remains unclear whether he will find the sweet spot that will ultimately win at least 60 votes on the Senate floor for the 1,300-page bill. However, while committee Democrats have expressed some reservations, Dodd is likely still to be able to count on their support.

“It’s tough, it’s a big bill, it’s a complex bill, people have a lot of different ideas,” committee spokeswoman Kirstin Brost said. “But when we talk to committee members, everybody is committed to getting it done.”

Public anger with Wall Street bailouts and exorbitant executive bonuses are the wind at Dodd’s back in pushing his bill before the midterm elections, as Democrats are looking for a consumer-friendly issue to tout on the campaign trail. Indeed, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) noted at a press conference Wednesday that regulatory reform folds into Democrats’ broad jobs agenda and that the issue will be a top concern after the two-week Easter recess.

The Banking panel will begin marking up the measure next week. All 13 Democrats are likely to vote in favor, even as some liberals, such as Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), fight their own concerns with certain provisions. As he works to hold his Democratic colleagues together, Dodd and other Democrats aren’t giving up on finding GOP support.

“Republicans don’t want to be on the wrong side of Wall Street,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said, predicting at least a handful of GOPers will vote for the measure on the floor.

Still, that didn’t persuade Brown to go with a softer measure that would meet Republican priorities.

“I want it to be as progressive as we can get out of committee — [as] strong on consumer as we can get,” Brown said.

Whether Republicans want to reach a deal remains uncertain. As of Wednesday, GOPers were still solidifying their markup strategy, according to K Streeters angling to find Members to sponsor amendments. Republicans had more than 100 amendments ready to go, but it was unclear whether they would opt to offer any of them, or instead decide to abstain from the entire process.

“Senator Shelby is scrubbing the bill and he continues to talk to his members to decide how he wants to proceed, whether it’s an alternative or amendments,” spokesman Jonathan Graffeo said. “We’re still trying to digest this 1,300-page bill. That takes a while.”

Republicans also have stayed mum on whether they would employ procedural tactics to delay next week’s markup. Several lobbyists said they expected the markup to go forward with little rancor as both Dodd and Shelby continue negotiations to cut a final deal before the bill goes to the floor.

“I would be surprised if at the end of the process, Sen. Shelby and other serious Republicans don’t recognize both the importance of dealing with these issues on a policy level, but on a political level that this could be a serious Achilles heel because of the nature of the issue and the way the public view both Wall Street and the Republican party,” said Paul Equale, a Democratic financial services lobbyist.

Financial services trade groups are lobbying for several changes to Dodd’s bill, arguing that the proposed consumer protection bureau’s power is too broad and that federal pre-emption for banks is necessary. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has come out most strongly against the consumer financial protection bureau, engaging in a multimillion-dollar grass-roots campaign aimed at killing the proposal.

The consumer protection agency was the primary sticking point for Dodd during negotiations with Shelby and later with Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who is also on the panel.

Liberals have long advocated for an independent agency, and some gripe that Dodd gave away too much on the issue to Republicans who so far have not said whether they would even vote for the bill.

In the lead-up to next week’s markup, as Dodd tries to woo Shelby and hold together his own colleagues, the chairman hopes to focus on a broader message of reform.

“The public isn’t going to understand haggling over minutiae. They want us to reform Wall Street,” Brost said.