Votes in doubt as Reid sets Wall St. showdown


The Senate has scheduled a showdown early next week on Wall Street reform, and lawmakers familiar with negotiations say a deal is unlikely by then.

Democrats have set a 5 p.m. vote for Monday to begin consideration of the bill, giving negotiators only four more days to reach a deal on a document exceeding 1,400 pages.

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Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who has led the negotiations with Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), the ranking Republican on Banking, said a final deal was unlikely by then.

“To suggest we’re somehow going to come out and say — two senators and maybe some others — ‘This is the bill’ is probably unrealistic,” Dodd said.

A senior Democratic aide said a failed vote would benefit Democrats politically in a tough election year because Republicans would have to defend their decision to block regulation of big banks that caused the recession.

 “The Republicans don’t have the cards on this one,” said the aide. “We’ll be able to hit them the rest of the year on this.”

Republicans, such as Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.), one of the most vulnerable GOP incumbents, say they are not afraid of the attacks. Burr said Democrats would find something else to hammer him with if not the Wall Street reform bill.

Republicans accused Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) of blowing up bipartisan negotiations on the cusp of success, portraying it as the latest in a series of moves to appeal to the liberal base.

“I don’t think bipartisanship is a waste of time,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday.

“I think Americans expect more of us. I think they expect us to take the time to do it right. I would add my impression was that serious discussions were going on; I think they should continue,” McConnell said.

McConnell made his statement hours after Reid said he would schedule a vote to cut off a Republican filibuster.

“I’m not going to waste any more time of the American people while they come up with some agreement,” Reid told reporters, noting that Democrats have spent three months negotiating the final structure of the bill with Republicans.

Dodd said there might be informal agreement reached on some issues but that questions over the biggest substantive matters would have to be decided on the Senate floor.

“We have to get to a debate on the floor — that’s when things happen,” Dodd said. “I can’t think of a single instance where you didn’t get to the floor on something of this magnitude.”

Dodd said changes to the bill would happen through the amendment process.

Democrats need at least one Republican vote to get the 60 votes necessary to begin debate on the bill. Dodd said he didn’t know if that would happen.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who led the bipartisan negotiations with Dodd for a month, said Democrats would not attract a Republican without getting Shelby to give the green light.

“I hope they don’t test us on this, because they’re not going to get the votes,” Corker said.

A Republican source said a bipartisan deal appeared less likely after Shelby gave colleagues an update on the talks Wednesday afternoon.

“Some people’s jaws dropped when they heard what Shelby had to say,” said the GOP source.

Shelby informed colleagues that Dodd has declined his requests to take enforcement power away from a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or to give prudential regulators oversight of the consumer-allied bureau.

Republicans fear the bureau would have unchecked power over banks and could undermine their long-term fiscal viability.

A second Republican source confirmed that Shelby told colleagues that a disagreement over what powers to give the bureau was a sticking point.

While most of the public debate in recent days has swirled around the proposal to establish a $50 billion fund to bring about the orderly liquidation of large troubled banks, sources close to the negotiation say it’s not a major issue.

They say the powers of the financial protection bureau, regulation of derivatives and the so-called Volcker Rule, which would limit banks from betting their own capital in risky trades, are bigger issues behind the scenes.

A senior Democratic aide said negotiations would resume even if Monday’s vote failed.

Such a vote would give Democratic senators political cover with the party base for any concessions made to the GOP before bringing a bill to the floor.

It could also provide fodder for campaign ads in the fall, giving Democrats a chance to argue that Republicans blocked more stringent regulation of banks such as Goldman Sachs, which was charged with fraud last week.

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The White House has focused its lobbying efforts on Maine Sens. Susan Collins (R) and Olympia Snowe (R), hoping that one of them may allow debate to proceed.

 But both have backed a GOP threat to filibuster the bill.

Collins suggested Monday that Democrats and Republicans should take three or four weeks to hammer out a compromise.

A Democratic aide, however, dismissed that timeline as unrealistic.

The debate has become increasingly acrimonious in recent days, with Reid tiptoeing just short of accusing McConnell of lying about the bill.

Reid called McConnell’s characterizations about the bill “not true” during a Thursday press conference.

Reid spokesman Jim Manley slammed McConnell earlier in the week for meeting with Wall Street executives and then distorting the legislation.

“We know that the Republican leader is taking his cue from big-bank lobbyists to kill reform at all costs, but he should stop misleading the public and, while he’s at it, come clean about any secret deals he cut to let Wall Street off the hook,” Manley said.