McConnell: White House trying to 'jam' GOP on financial overhaul legislation

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) exited a White House meeting on the issue Wednesday and charged that the White House had ordered Democratic senators to pull out of bipartisan talks on an issue on which Democrats believe they have the advantage.

“They wanted to jam us,” said McConnell, whose message to Obama was to allow negotiators back to the table.

“I naively thought we were heading in that direction until the strings were pulled on the Democratic leaders,” McConnell said.

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White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs quickly fired back, saying Obama had invited Republicans to join in reform efforts.

But Gibbs then warned Obama “would not accept bad policy in pursuit of bipartisanship,” and also suggested Republicans were looking for loopholes for large banks and other financial interests.

Obama has “made clear that bipartisanship should not be equated with an openness to lobbyist loopholes and special interest carve-outs, and that he would be unwilling to negotiate on some key issues,” Gibbs said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also fired a shot at McConnell, saying a lock-out of Republicans was “a figment of his imagination.”

Reid said Republicans have tried to obstruct almost every piece of legislation Obama and Democrats have pushed for, and that financial reforms are no different.

“It's obvious that the Republicans are saying 'no' again to progress for America,” Reid said.

The financial overhaul bill was approved by the Senate Banking Committee last month on a party-line vote after Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) ended negotiations with Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). Earlier talks between Dodd and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) had also failed to reach a compromise.

Reid said the Senate would push ahead with the bill in its current form "as rapidly as possible," and he invited Republicans to help improve the bill.

"It's important the American people realize it's difficult to work with the Party of No," Reid said.

Republicans have acknowledged that opposing financial regulatory reform puts them in a difficult position, and some GOP senators have predicted legislation will be approved by the Senate.

But the GOP has also stepped up its arguments this week against the bill, which they say would set up a fund for permanent bailouts of the financial sector that would have taxpayers subsidize irresponsible behavior by Wall Street.

On Wednesday, there were new signs that Democrats might have trouble winning the 60 votes they'll need to clear procedural hurdles before a final Senate vote.

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), who has voted with Democrats since arriving in the Senate earlier this year to move an extension of unemployment benefits forward, criticized the White House for using regulatory reform as a wedge issue. He said he couldn't support the bill as written.

Dodd, however, said he didn't think all 41 Senate Republicans would vote against his bill on the floor.

"I don't think a number of Republicans want to be led by the nose into the pit," Dodd said.

The White House and Obama, who appear to be relishing a fight on the issue, told reporters the bill would prevent bailouts, not lead to them.

“That's the goal,” Obama said.


The two sides are fighting over a provision in the bill that would create a $50 billion industry-supported fund to help financial firms whose collapse would be detrimental to the economy. Republicans argue the fund is insufficient and that taxpayers would be asked to step in if the fund didn’t cover the costs of a future financial crisis.

Before the meeting, Obama warned that the overhaul needed to be passed to prevent another financial “meltdown.”

“All of us recognize that we cannot have a circumstance in which a meltdown in the financial sector once again puts the entire economy in peril,” Obama said. “And that if there’s one lesson that we’ve learned it’s that an unfettered market where people are taking huge risks and expecting taxpayers to bail them out when things go sour is simply not acceptable.’’

Obama has said he wants to be able to sign the bill into law before the two-year anniversary of the peak of the financial crisis in early fall. The House has already passed a bill, and the Senate is expected to move quickly now that the Easter recess is over.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will join Gibbs at the daily briefing Wednesday afternoon, the White House said.

Joining the president in the Cabinet Room for the meeting on financial regulatory reform were Geithner, Vice President Joe Biden, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Reid, the Senate majority leader, and McConnell, the minority leader, were also there, joined by Obama's top aides.

This story was posted at 11:38 a.m. and updated at 1:46 p.m.