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.

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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 ObamaJill Biden campaigns for McAuliffe in Virginia Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Biden administration breaks down climate finance roadmap Pelosi hilariously scolds media for not 'selling' .5T spending bill: 'Do a better job' 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 JohnsonCornell to launch new bipartisan publication led by former Rep. Steve Israel Trump faces tough path to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac overhaul Several hurt when truck runs into minimum wage protesters in Michigan MORE (D-S.D.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) opposed the motion. Sen. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHispanic organizations call for Latino climate justice in reconciliation Senate to vote next week on Freedom to Vote Act To Win 2022: Go big on reconciliation and invest in Latinx voters 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 LeahySenate Judiciary squares off over John Lewis voting rights bill Senate Democrats introduce legislation to strengthen Voting Rights Act 92 legal scholars call on Harris to preside over Senate to include immigration in reconciliation MORE (Vt.) and Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinFCC needs to help services for the deaf catch up to videoconferencing tech Biden celebrates anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act Ex-Rep. Abby Finkenauer running for Senate in Iowa 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 CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  MORE (Tenn.), Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoYellen confident of minimum global corporate tax passage in Congress 136 countries agree to deal on global minimum tax Biden sidesteps GOP on judicial vacancies, for now MORE (Idaho) and Judd Gregg (N.H.), all of whom will be part of the conference, supported the motion. Sen. Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissEffective and profitable climate solutions are within the nation's farms and forests Live coverage: Georgia Senate runoffs Trump, Biden face new head-to-head contest in Georgia 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.