WASHINGTON (AP) - A tentative agreement in hand, Democrats and
Republicans still face an array of hurdles and uncertain timing
over a Senate bill that would rein in financial institutions.
While Democrats agreed to jettison a $50 billion fund to
liquidate large, failing firms, disputes over consumer protections,
Federal Reserve oversight and regulation of complex securities are
for the moment beyond compromise. Democrats and Republicans were
preparing to fight those issues out on the Senate floor.
Heading into Wednesday, the Senate had yet to take a vote on any
amendment to the bill. The Senate's Republican and Democratic
leaders bickered over timing. And while debate was well on its way,
the endgame for the bill was far from clear.
"They're stalling everything we do," Senate Majority Leader
Harry Reid complained Tuesday evening. He called for the bill to be
completed by the end of next week.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell had a different
timetable in mind. "I must tell you, I don't think this is a
couple-of-weeks bill," he said. "It's not that we don't want to
pass it, but we do want to cover the subject."
With 41 seats, Republicans have the votes to prevent a final
vote as long as they remain united.
The House has cleared its version of the measure.
In their willingness to drop the $50 billion fund, Senate
Democrats on Tuesday abandoned a provision that Republicans
attacked repeatedly as a perpetual Wall Street bailout-in-waiting.
The Obama administration also did not support the fund, which would
have been financed by an assessment on large financial
Dropping the fund means the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
would have to borrow from the Treasury to cover the initial costs
of liquidating a large, interconnected firm that is collapsing.
That means taxpayers would essentially front the money.
But in their deal, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher
Dodd, D-Conn., and the committee's top Republican, Sen. Richard
Shelby of Alabama, would require the FDIC to recoup those costs
from the sale of a failing firm's assets and from the firm's
creditors. Additional costs could be paid by assessing a fee on
large banks, but only as a last resort.
Dodd and Shelby had not formalized the agreement pending a
review by key lawmakers and the Obama administration.
Once that negotiation is sealed, Republicans intend to seek
changes through amendments to the legislation's consumer protection
provisions, which they say are too onerous, and to expand
exceptions in the regulation of complex securities. Several
Democrats aim to make the bill tougher on banks, calling for limits
on bank size or restrictions on their ability to trade on their own
Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, had obtained
bipartisan support for an amendment that would require an extensive
audit of the Federal Reserve. Administration and Fed officials were
opposing the measure, saying it would interfere with the Fed's
independence in setting monetary policy.