Crunch time for auto dealer lobbying

Auto dealers are facing the toughest fight yet in their effort to win an exemption from new financial regulations.

The dealerships waged a high-stakes battle in the House and won an exemption in December from a new consumer financial protection regulator that is part of much broader financial legislation targeting Wall Street. Auto dealers last week won non-binding support in the Senate for the same carve-out. Republican and Democratic lawmakers have given their backing.

The auto dealers are now at a critical juncture. A small group of House and Senate lawmakers are headed into a month-long conference to finalize the legislation and send it to President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaEven with likely Trump impeachment, Democrats face uphill climb to win presidency Clinton suggests Russia grooming Gabbard to run as third-party 2020 candidate The Hill's 12:30 Report: Washington mourns loss of Elijah Cummings MORE before the July Fourth recess.

The lawmakers making up the conference have not all been named yet, but Democrats in the House and Senate slated to take part in the negotiations are overwhelmingly opposed to the exemption. Republicans headed to the conference are supportive, but they are outnumbered by the Democrats. The White House is expected to ratchet up its already vocal campaign against the carve-out.

“We're not taking our foot off the pedal,” said Bailey Wood, spokesman for the National Automobile Dealers Association, the powerful lobbying group that has pushed for more than a year for the exemption.

“They still have to get this bill back through the House and Senate. There will be an increased amount of White House meddling. The forces are against us,” Wood said.

The lobbying group is focusing closely on lawmakers expected to make up the conference negotiations.

The Senate on Monday named seven Democrats and five Republicans to make up their portion of the conference. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) this week recommended eight Democrats for the conference.

Of the 20 lawmakers already expected to partake in the negotiations, only two Democrats and five Republicans support the exemption.

The auto dealers won their first fight for the exemption last October during a House Financial Services Committee markup. The committee voted 47-24 in favor of the exemption, with 19 Democrats and all Republicans in support.

But most of the committee's senior Democrats — who will be in the conference negotiations — voted against the exemption.

Frank strongly opposes the exemption, and among those he recommended for the conference, Democratic Reps. Paul Kanjorksi (Pa.), Mel Watt (N.C.), Luis Gutierrez (Ill.), Maxine Waters (Calif.) and Gregory Meeks (N.Y.) opposed the exemption last October. Democratic Reps. Carolyn Maloney (N.Y.) and Dennis Moore (Kan.) supported the carve-out.

In the Senate, auto dealers strongly backed a similar amendment sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.). The White House campaigned strongly against the exemption, with Obama releasing a rare statement devoted entirely to opposing the exemption.
In the vote last Monday, senior members of the Senate Banking Committee opposed the non-binding motion to instruct conferees to exempt the auto dealers. Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Sens. Tim JohnsonTimothy (Tim) Peter JohnsonTrump faces tough path to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac overhaul Several hurt when truck runs into minimum wage protesters in Michigan Senate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation MORE (D-S.D.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) opposed the motion. Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump touts Turkey cease-fire: 'Sometimes you have to let them fight' Mattis responds to Trump criticism: 'I guess I'm the Meryl Streep of generals' Democrats vow to push for repeal of other Trump rules after loss on power plant rollback MORE (D-N.Y.) was absent during the vote; his office did not respond to repeated requests for comment about his position.

Of the three other Democratic senators headed to the conference, Sens. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyDemocrats dig in ahead of Supreme Court ruling on 'Dreamers' McConnell tees up government funding votes amid stalemate Rand Paul calls for probe of Democrats over Ukraine letter MORE (Vt.) and Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinWisconsin lawmaker gets buzz-cut after vowing not to cut hair until sign language bill passed Democratic debates kick off Iowa summer sprint Key endorsements: A who's who in early states MORE (Iowa) opposed the motion. Committee Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) was absent during the vote. Her office did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.

Republican Sens. Richard Shelby (Ala.), Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTrump's GOP impeachment firewall holds strong George Conway hits Republicans for not saying Trump's name while criticizing policy Trump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid MORE (Tenn.), Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoGOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe Nearing finish line, fight for cannabis banking bill shifts to the Senate On The Money: Trump strikes trade deal with Japan on farm goods | GOP senator to meet Trump amid spending stalemate | House passes cannabis banking bill | Judge issues one-day pause on subpoena for Trump's tax returns MORE (Idaho) and Judd Gregg (N.H.), all of whom will be part of the conference, supported the motion. Sen. Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissThe Hill's Morning Report - Gillibrand drops out as number of debaters shrinks Hoekstra emerges as favorite for top intelligence post Republicans say Democrats holding up disaster relief as 'Sandy payback' MORE (R-Ga.) was absent during the vote, but the senator supports the exemption, his office said on Friday.

“He doesn’t believe that we should seek out ways to add new regulatory burdens to Main Street businesses that did not have a role in creating our recent financial crisis,” the senator's spokeswoman said on Friday.

House Republicans have not released a list of lawmakers headed to the conference because House members have not been officially appointed yet.