Health reform bill at impasse, Democrats push ahead alone
WASHINGTON — Democrats said on Thursday that they would go it alone in an effort to pass an overhaul of financial regulation, increasing the likelihood of a bitter partisan showdown.
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, said he would put forward his own bill on Monday, despite the lack of a single Republican endorsement. Democrats concluded that bipartisan talks were not making enough progress and that going their own way was the only realistic hope of getting the legislation adopted in an election year, he said.
Dodd said the bill would rewrite the rules of Wall Street, end the “too big to fail” phenomenon and protect consumers from risky or abusive financial products. The congressional calendar meant that further delay could imperil the legislation’s chances, he said.
The chief Republican negotiator on the bill, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, called Dodd’s decision “very disappointing” and said, “There’s no question that White House politics and health care have kept us from getting to the goal line.”
Corker said the impasse was caused by the Democratic threat to use the parliamentary procedure known as reconciliation to overhaul health care. “The elephant in the room is reconciliation,” he said, describing Dodd as “a victim of health care policy.”
The White House, which has called the legislation one of its top priorities, rejected that explanation. “Republicans in the Senate are going to have to ask themselves why they would stand in the way of financial reform,” Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said at a news conference.
Gibbs, who said that “lobbyists are being hired hand over fist to kill financial reform,” said of lawmakers: “I don’t believe many are going to want to go home and face voters next November not having done something.”
While Dodd and Corker took pains to praise each other and held out hope that a compromise could still be achieved, the developments clearly made the prospects for the legislation more difficult.
Dodd said he intended for the committee to take up formal consideration of the bill during the week of March 22, with the goal of a committee vote before Congress recesses on March 26. “As time moves on, you just limit the possibility of getting something done, particularly a bill of this magnitude and this complexity,” he said.
But Corker said it “would be a travesty” to push a bill of such length and complexity through in one week.
The lack of agreement put the process closer to a showdown. Democrats, who control 59 votes in the Senate, would have to successfully woo at least one Republican to achieve the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.