Dems dealt setback on Wall St. bill

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) emerged from a meeting with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner on Monday to announce she would join a GOP filibuster of Wall Street reform.


The decision delivers a significant blow to Democrats, who had seen Collins as one of the most likely GOP votes in favor of a financial overhaul bill, and throws into question their legislative agenda for the week.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had hoped to move forward with legislation approved by the Senate Banking Committee as early as Wednesday, and Democrats since last week had been increasing the pressure on Republicans not to stand in the way.

 Collins, who initially resisted signing a letter circulated by GOP Senate leaders pledging a filibuster of the bill, said it was unlikely that her concerns could be addressed within the next few days. The main legislator urged Reid not to bring a partisan bill to the floor.

She said told Geithner that she believed “we can work out a truly bipartisan bill that will strengthen our financial system.”

 “I see no reason why a bipartisan bill could not be put together over the next few weeks,” Collins said.

Before the setback with Collins, Democrats scrambled Monday to increase public support for their legislation and win over GOP votes.

Geithner met Monday with both Collins and her GOP colleague from Maine, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R), who is also seen as a gettable vote on financial reform.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) sharpened his rhetoric in favor of the legislation on Monday, saying his bill would have prevented the alleged financial fraud that brought Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charges against Goldman Sachs on Friday.

 “Let there be no doubt in my mind, our bill would have prevented that kind of event from happening, in my view, and that’s what the public needs to know,” Dodd said during a press conference.

 Democrats believe the SEC charges against Goldman have bolstered their case for financial reform, and on Monday they showed that they intend to stoke the fire for reform with the fuel of public anger toward large banks.

 House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) suggested that the charges against Goldman Sachs would increase financial reform’s chances for passage, though he said he believed the charges weren’t deliberately timed.

 “It does, although I thought they were pretty good anyway,” Frank said during an appearance on CNBC when asked whether the situation improves the chances for financial reform’s passage.

More tough talk is expected on Thursday, when President Barack Obama will travel to New York City to speak in Wall Street’s backyard on the need for financial reform. The White House announced the trip on Monday morning.

 Democrats also continued to portray Republicans as protectors of large financial institutions, with Reid’s office raising questions about a meeting earlier this month between industry leaders and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) Chairman John Cornyn (Texas).

Reid’s office said the two Republicans were conducting “backroom negotiations” on Wall Street reform and said they should be open about the discussions.

Republicans, in response, pressured Reid to return donations from Goldman.

 “If Harry Reid believes there’s something wrong with meeting with business executives in New York City, then he should immediately explain to his Nevada constituents why he was scooping up campaign cash from Goldman Sachs just a few days ago at a backroom Manhattan fundraiser,” NRSC communications director Brian Walsh said Monday.

 “One can only presume that Sen. Reid will be returning these donations immediately, along with the more than $1.1 million he’s taken from Wall Street over the years,” Walsh added. “And if not, he should explain why not.”

 Despite the increasingly combative tenor of the financial reform debate, Democrats in the White House and in Congress on Monday remained optimistic that a bipartisan deal might be struck to advance their legislation.  

“I’m hopeful this week, with all the efforts that we’ve been making over the last number of months, that we can come to an agreement that would produce the kind of broad votes that we should [get] on this legislation, and I’m still hopeful that can be achieved,” Dodd said.

 The White House also suggested that it believes a bipartisan vote is possible, though it used the timeline of weeks rather than days, for which Reid might have hoped.

 “I think we’ll have a strong bipartisan vote on financial reform in the next several weeks,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said at his daily press briefing. “I think there is a desire to get something done.”

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