WASHINGTON — While the odds of passage remain strong, the process behind the regulatory reform legislation is increasingly chaotic.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd took to the floor Thursday to beg his colleagues on both sides of the aisle to stop adding more amendments, warning the process is in danger of spinning out of control.
In a rare spectacle, Dodd rebuffed another senior retiring Democrat, Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, and argued his plea to debate yet another amendment was threatening the legislation.
"I'll be very candid with my friend from North Dakota, it complicates my job," Dodd said. "They all have amendments they want to bring up. … We run the risk of losing this bill."
But Dorgan was not convinced, invoking "The Terminator" and vowing to press his case.
"I'm sorry that I can't get this pending at the moment," he told Dodd. "But as Gov. Schwarzenegger said in a previous life, 'I'll be back,' and soon."
The exchange between Dodd and Dorgan illustrates the complexity in trying to get 100 senators to agree on a sweeping bill to reform the financial system.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid convened a Democratic caucus lunch Thursday to discuss with colleagues how to handle the rest of the debate on financial reform, telling them that the Senate has other work it needs to finish before the Memorial Day recess.
A spokesman for Reid said that the Nevada Democrat would likely file cloture on Monday, a procedural motion that would set up a Wednesday vote to end debate.
But going into the meeting several members, including many Democrats, said they still wanted to see changes to the legislation ahead of a final vote.
Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., expressed frustration that more issues had not been addressed during the Banking Committee vote on the bill.
"We didn't debate any of these things," he said. "Had no amendments on anything. It was actually kind of a travesty. I think it's important that these issues get debated fully and fairly and voted on, otherwise we don't have a legislative process here."
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said he was angling for a vote on his amendment to repeal the exportation of interest rate rules to other states.
"I've been pressing Sen. Reid and Sen. Dodd for a vote since the beginning and nothing about that is going to change," he said. "We have a lot of support. I'm not sure what the exact whip count is. I would certainly be reluctant to close off debate until my amendment has had a chance to be heard."
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said that he still hoped to include his amendment to strengthen the Volcker Rule ban on proprietary trading.
Sens. Ted Kaufman of Delaware and Sherrod Brown of Ohio said that they wanted to see a vote on the Levin amendment as well as a measure from Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and John McCain, R-Ariz., to reinstate the separation of commercial and investment banking that was repealed in 1999.
"There are some good amendments out there we ought to think about doing, such as the Levin-Merkley amendment," Kaufman said.
Despite frictions expressed by several senators from both parties who still want to leave their stamp on the legislation, many acknowledged that momentum for the bill is undeniable and Republicans conceded that even without significant changes, the bill is likely to pass.
"I think the bill is going to pass and I think every person on our side of the aisle thinks the bill is going to pass, but I think many of us who had worked hard hoping for a good bill realize that is probably not going to be the case," said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. "We are going to end up with a bill that the American people don't deserve. It doesn't address many of the core issues and at the same time its a vast overreach."
Corker was not the only Republican to signal that the necessary votes to pass the bill were already in hand.
Sen. Richard Shelby, the top Republican negotiator, said that he could not support the bill in its current form, but predicted at least some other GOP lawmakers would.
"I wouldn't think many of them would support this bill," the Alabama lawmaker said.
When asked if enough Republicans would vote for it — Democrats only need one if they hold their own caucus together — Shelby said yes, "at the end of the day."
So far, Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley and Olympia Snowe have cast decisive votes in Democrats' favor during critical votes on the bill.
They each voted with the Democrats to reject a GOP alternative to a proposed consumer protection bureau from Shelby, and they voted in favor of blocking a GOP substitute on the derivatives section of the bill that would have removed the requirement that banks spin off their swaps desks.
Snowe has also succeeded in convincing Dodd to accept several of her amendments on the floor, including protections for small businesses and seasonal businesses in Maine.
Grassley said Thursday that he did not have any concerns with the bill as it currently stands and was working to preserve provisions he supports, including the swaps measure.
"For right now, I don't have any concern, but that doesn't mean I won't have concerns between now and the last amendment being adopted," the Iowa Republican said.
But Grassley stopped short of pledging to support the final product. "Let's wait till you get down to the end, I'm not going to make that judgment now."
Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., is another Republican who signaled he wants to support the bill and is considered likely to vote for it even if Dodd fails to strike a bipartisan deal with Shelby.
"There are Democrats and Republicans working in a bipartisan manner offering legitimate amendments in an effort to make this the best possible bill for the American people and for American businesses, and to address the very real concerns that we all have," Brown said in an interview. "I'm playing a very active role."
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