Dodd enters final days of last battle

Dodd enters final days of last battle

For Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), passing financial regulatory reform is bigger than cleaning up Wall Street. It's also about proving that the Senate can still function.

Four months after announcing he would not seek reelection to a sixth term, Dodd’s Wall Street reform bill is headed to a vote in the Senate as early as Wednesday. It has been a long and frustrating journey for the Connecticut senator, but the bill is now on track to pass the upper chamber and be signed into law later this year.

The legislation represents the Senate’s response to the financial crisis that swept in the worst recession in decades, and would usher in new rules for banks, hedge funds and other players on Wall Street.

To hear Dodd’s take, however, the historic legislation is less important than his showing that the Senate can still function in a toxic political atmosphere.

“It is the Senate. We’re not the House,” Dodd, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, said in an interview in his office. “There’s a reason the Senate exists. It isn’t just to satisfy big states or small states. It’s to make sure that full-throated debate can occur.”

“I wanted to demonstrate and prove, if to no one else but myself, that this Senate is not on some trajectory downward that’s irreversible,” continued Dodd, who guided the healthcare bill through the Senate after Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) died last year.

“Even in this poisonous political environment — maybe the most poisonous one we’ve been in for a long time — I was determined to prove you could take a complex piece of legislation, highly controversial, and members could be heard and you could debate issues,” Dodd said.

Wall Street reform has been far from devoid of political gamesmanship, of course, and Dodd is a consummate political player.

He started negotiations with Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSenate campaign fundraising reports roll in Congress should take the lead on reworking a successful Iran deal North Korea tensions ease ahead of Winter Olympics MORE (R-Tenn.) on Wall Street reform after reaching an impasse with Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), his panel’s ranking member. He later cut off talks with Corker and moved the bill through his committee on a party-line vote.

After a brutal healthcare debate that saw his party’s poll numbers plummet, Dodd and other Democrats were happy to be on offense against big banks on financial reform.

In April, Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDems search for winning playbook Dems face hard choice for State of the Union response The Memo: Immigration battle tests activists’ muscle MORE (D-Nev.) held procedural votes to open debate on the bill for three days in a row, leading to headlines about Republicans blocking Wall Street reform. That eventually wore the GOP down, and a formal debate over financial reform began on the Senate floor in early May.

Since then, however, what’s been notable about the Senate debate on financial reform is the contrast with the healthcare fight, in which partisan votes were the norm.

Dodd notes that the weeks-long debate in the Senate has not featured a single filibuster or tabling motion. The Senate has had 20 roll-call votes on the legislation; nearly every one has seen at least a handful Republicans and Democrats cross party lines to vote for or against a particular measure. Some amendments have been added with broad support from both parties. Others have divided Republicans and Democrats.

Dodd, who spoke scornfully of a political atmosphere in which senators no longer share lunch together in the Senate dining club and the same members speak at every weekly caucus meeting, acknowledged the debate may get rougher in the final days, but he’s full of pride over the last few weeks, which could mark the last time he steers a bill through the Senate.

“While history may talk about Wall Street reform, I’m going to feel as good watching the Senate function as I will about the product it produced,” Dodd said in rolled-up shirt sleeves after completing another day of debate on the bill.

Read more about The Hill's interview with Sen. Chris Dodd in Tuesday’s print edition.