Financial reform takes center stage in Senate

Senate Democrats embark Monday on a seven-week effort to hammer out differences on a financial overhaul bill that they aim to pass before Memorial Day.

President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats have redoubled their efforts to overhaul the financial system following the passage of healthcare legislation this year. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) is shepherding the bill through the upper chamber, but few lawmakers off his panel have focused closely on the legislation.

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Democrats need to win over at least one Republican to break a possible filibuster. Senate Republicans opposed Dodd's bill during committee markup, but the two parties are still negotiating the details of the bill in an effort to have bipartisan support, aides say.

Meanwhile, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) will unveil legislation to regulate the derivatives market that will need to be meshed with Dodd's bill. The Agriculture panel oversees the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), which would gain new oversight over the market. 

Senior administration officials told reporters on Wednesday they would fight any efforts to weaken the bill, mentioning possible exemptions to consumer regulations for auto dealers and exemptions from new rules in the multitrillion-dollar derivatives market.

Lobbyists from across the financial and business world are looking for major and minor changes to the legislation. Some interests are pursuing individual floor amendments, while others are looking for changes before the bill hits the Senate floor.


The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) is supporting an amendment from Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) to exempt auto dealers from a new consumer protection office.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) had an amendment before the markup that would limit banks from having large ownership stakes in clearinghouses that act as middleman between buyers and sellers of derivatives.

Big banks are concerned about new regulations that could limit proprietary trading, under the so-called, “Volcker rule.” They had not expected that the rule would be added to Dodd's bill. The rule was outlined by the White House after the House passed its financial overhaul in December, and is supported by Paul Volcker, adviser to the White House and former Federal Reserve chairman.

Real estate and financial interests argue a new requirement for lenders to retain 5 percent of risk in asset-backed securities could hurt real estate and credit markets as they struggle to recover.