By Russell Berman - 05/25/10 10:00 AM EDT
House Republicans who voted en masse against the financial reform bill in December may have a tougher time holding ranks after four Senate Republicans supported the measure last week.
Democrats have amped up the pressure on the GOP, sensing a winning political issue in an election-year environment that has turned sharply against Wall Street.
Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), a congressman running for the Senate, said he liked the Senate version of the financial reform plan better than the House legislation and that he would consider voting for it when it emerges from the conference negotiations between the two chambers.
When the House first passed the financial reform legislation on a 223-202 vote in December, it drew relatively little attention in a political debate dominated by healthcare. The dynamic is different now, and Democrats have credited increased public focus on the Wall Street reform bill with helping to secure its passage in the Senate.
Castle acknowledged that the increasingly populist undercurrent, with anger directed toward Wall Street, could be a factor for some members.
Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for House GOP whip Eric Cantor (Va.), said it was “hard to say” whether the caucus would remain unified against the bill before the final details are known.
But lawmakers and aides said that while a few House Republicans may cross over, they still expected a vast majority of the caucus to vote against the legislation, which the GOP leadership continues to oppose.
“This is just the latest Democrat overreach in which populist rhetoric is used against businesspeople small and large while the long-term consequences for economic growth and job creation are ignored by an out-of-touch Washington,” Dayspring said.
Another GOP lawmaker in a competitive Senate race, Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), indicated the legislation had not changed dramatically enough in the Senate to earn his vote.
“While the Senate bill was an improvement over the House version, I am concerned the legislation does not go far enough to rein in ‘too big to fail’ banks,” Kirk said in a statement to The Hill. “Taxpayers will continue to be on the hook for future bailouts without those reforms.”
GOP lawmakers said they had kept a close eye on the Senate debate to see how many Republicans would back the bill. Before the vote on Thursday, a House GOP lawmaker close to the financial-reform vote count predicted that House Republicans would likely remain opposed to the final bill if only a few Senate Republicans crossed party lines.
“If it is just the usual suspects, two or three, I think when it comes back here we will stay true to our form,” and vote against the bill, the member said.
Four Senate Republicans ultimately supported the measure, with Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) surprising some officials by joining Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine), Susan Collins (Maine) and Scott Brown (Mass.), who were all expected yes votes.
Democrats said they would put pressure on GOP House members in tight races this fall, including Reps. Joseph Cao (La.), Jim Gerlach (Pa.), Charlie Dent (Pa.) and Dan Lungren (Calif.). Cao said through a spokesman that he had no comment on the Senate financial reform bill, while Gerlach, Dent and Lungren did not return requests for comment.
Democratic leadership aides said that while they welcome GOP support, they stopped expecting it long ago. Party leaders have cast Republican opposition to the reform bill as evidence that the GOP is beholden to corporate interests.
Republicans, in turn, have said the legislation is another “Washington takeover” and criticized Democrats for refusing to overhaul the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which the GOP has blamed for causing the housing market crash that led to the financial crisis. With a formal conference committee about to be appointed, House GOP Leader John Boehner (Ohio) called on Democrats to hold negotiations in public and televise them on C-SPAN. Democratic leaders have said the conference would be “open,” though the actual negotiations are expected to occur behind closed doors.
Democrats will have their own vote-counting to do when the bill comes back to the House. Twenty-seven Democrats opposed the financial reform bill in December, mostly members of the Blue Dog Coalition. One leadership aide said more Democrats could come on board for the final version. “There’s potential for a stronger vote,” the aide said.
Molly K. Hooper contributed to this story.