WASHINGTON — A sweeping overhaul of the nation’s financial regulations stands on the verge of reaching President Barack Obama’s desk after a year of partisan struggles and delicate cross-party courtships that promised more and delivered less.
Only three Senate Republicans say they will vote for the bill during a key vote today that will set the stage for final passage. But the bill — designed to rein in big banks and protect consumers in hopes of averting a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis — bears the fingerprints of many others in the GOP.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, D-Conn., negotiated several provisions with key committee Republicans such as Richard Shelby and Bob Corker. Neither, though, intends to vote for the bill.
That those bipartisan talks even occurred was remarkable in the highly politicized atmosphere in Congress. That they failed to expand the bill’s base of support illustrates how much things remain the same.
Indeed, this day almost didn’t come.
In an interview, Dodd recalled how two months ago, struggling to secure 60 votes to simply start debate on the bill, some Democrats urged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to abandon the legislation and blame it on Republicans.
“There were some who wanted to quit on the bill,” Dodd said. Their reasoning, according to Dodd, was, “Why not just hold a press conference and denounce them (Republicans) for not allowing us to get there and try to reap whatever political benefits you could?”
Reid rejected the suggestion.
Several 60-vote cliffhangers later, the bill is now two roll calls away from heading for Obama’s signature and becoming law.
For a president hungry for good news, passage today would be a welcome achievement. The legislation has been an Obama priority, and in its final form it hews closely to the plan his administration unveiled a year ago.
But its political benefits in a heated midterm election year stand to be overshadowed by lingering high unemployment. And Republicans, casting the bill as vast government overreach, are betting that the voters’ antipathy toward big government and their worries over jobs would trump their anger at Wall Street.
“Ultimately in November, people are going to be looking at the size and scope of the federal government, spending and debt and see that a lot of aspects of this bill make things worse in terms of getting America back to work rather than better,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the head of National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Speaking on the Senate floor yesterday evening, Dodd said Americans who have suffered through the recession don’t count on Congress alone to bring back their jobs and homes.
“But they do expect us to respond to a situation that brought us to the brink of financial disaster,” he said. “And this is our best effort to do so. It’s not a perfect effort, I know that.”
The 2,300-page legislation, among other things:
— Gives the government new powers to break up teetering companies, which, if allowed to fail, would threaten the economy.
— Creates a new agency to protect consumers in their financial transactions.
— Shines a light into shadow financial markets that have escaped the oversight of regulators.
The bill’s many provisions don’t offer a quick remedy, however. Rather, they are a prescription for regulators to act. In many cases, the real impact of the legislation won’t be felt for at least two years.
“We have no idea whether this bill is historical or not,” Corker said. “We won’t know for a long time, until the regulators decide what they’re going to do with this bill.”