Senate takes shots at big banks in budget amendments

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Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) succeeded in adding another amendment to the budget upping pressure on big banks. His amendment, which was approved by voice vote, would create a deficit-neutral reserve fund to facilitate criminal prosecutions of financial institutions, regardless of size.

"Too big to jail is wrong under our Constitution that promises equality under the law and we must end it," he said.

The overwhelming success of those amendments indicates that few lawmakers want to be caught on the wrong side of the big bank debate, even as major legislative efforts to pinch those institutions have failed to catch on.

However, it remains an uphill climb for any member pushing further regulation on the financial sector. Regulators still have not finished implementing the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, the last major law Congress passed addressing that sector. And the White House has been adamant that the law the president signed in 2010 addresses the major flaws of the financial system and gives regulators the tools to wind down failing financial institutions, thereby killing "too big to fail."

Nonetheless, members on both sides of the aisle continue to hammer on the lingering sentiment that big banks enjoy implicit government backing, and regulators acknowledge that markets still need to be convinced that that safety net is no longer in place.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Wednesday that "too big to fail" remains a "major issue," and that regulators are working hard to put it to bed.

"I don't think 'too big to fail' is solved now. We're doing a number of things which I think will help," he said. "If we don't achieve the goal, I think we'll have to do additional steps ... it's not just something we can forget about."