WASHINGTON — The Senate Banking Committee approved Chairman Chris Dodd's regulatory reform bill along party lines on Monday, leaving the heavy lifting on the legislation — reaching a bipartisan agreement that could be passed by the full Senate — to be worked out later before the bill can go to the floor.
The 13 to 10 vote was unusually quick and followed no substantive discussion of the bill, with Republicans opting not to offer any of the more than 100 amendments they had filed with the panel.
As the vote took place, both Dodd and Sen. Richard Shelby, the committee's top Republican, vowed to continue working to hash out a bipartisan compromise.
"I know that there will be a spirited discussion in the days and weeks ahead but I expect that all the members of the committee and the full Senate will understand very clearly that we are moving forward," Dodd said. "The stakes are too high — and the American people have suffered too greatly — for us to fail in this effort. And we will not fail. We will have reform this year."
Shelby said the latest draft of the bill, unveiled Monday, was an improvement, but more needed to be done.
"This bill takes some steps in the right direction, it still falls short of ending bailouts and associated moral hazards," Shelby said.
Although Dodd made some changes to the legislation, it remained very similar to a version he unveiled last week. Most of the most controversial provisions of the bill, including a plan to create an independent consumer protection division, were not addressed. That leaves lawmakers with a lot of ground to cover before the bill can win the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster threat.
"It is essentially kicking the can to April," said Brian Gardner, an analyst with KBW Inc.
Responding to comments by Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair, Dodd deleted a section of the bill that would have allowed the Federal Reserve Board to invoke its emergency authority to lend money to a systemically important institution. The bill would no longer allow the Fed to prop up a failing large institution.
Under another change suggested by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the Dodd bill would clarify that state attorneys general could only enforce nonpreempted state laws against national banks. Previously, the bill would have allowed state AGs to enforce federal and state laws against national banks.
But Shelby raised several other issues he wanted to address. He said he wanted to ensure the bill ended "too big to fail," examine more closely the scope of the Fed's supervisory authority, and fix concerns with a part of the legislation intended to better regulate derivatives.
Although a partisan committee vote has been expected for some time, some observers thought more issues would have been worked out by now.
"Now it appears to me that everything is being left until after the Easter recess, and that is just going to make it more laborious to get the bill to the Senate floor," Gardner said. "There are so many issues that have been left outstanding, that the Banking Committee should have been able to take care of the lower-hanging fruit, and by not being able to take care of that, they've left even the simplest issues for April and May. It clutters up the to-do list of things that must get taken care of before the bill moves to the Senate floor."
Though Gardner said he gave the bill less than a 50-50 chance of reaching enactment, lawmakers themselves appeared more optimistic. Sen. Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican who had been trying to reach a deal with Dodd, gave the legislation 90% odds of clearing the Senate. "The fact is I think there is a better opportunity to get a middle-of-the-road bill done before it goes to the floor," he said on CNBC.
Shelby, too, said he was optimistic a deal could be struck. "I pledge to the chairman and my colleagues that I will continue to work with them as this bill approaches floor consideration in hopes of reaching a broad consensus," Shelby said. "As I have said many times, if we place policy ahead of politics, we can, and I believe will, reach an agreement that will not only attract significant support, but will also be good for the American taxpayer, our financial system and our economy."
Shelby had been ready to offer more than 100 amendments, including some conflicting ones. For example, one amendment sought to restore the Federal Reserve Board's powers to supervise state member banks, while another instead wanted to give all bank supervisory powers to a proposed Financial Institutions Regulatory Administration, which would in effect strip the Fed of its oversight powers.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, meanwhile, continued to warn lawmakers that the administration would not accept a bill that was too watered down. "The test we face is whether we enact real reforms that provide strong protection for consumers, strong constraints on risk taking by large institutions, and strong tools to protect the economy and tax payers from future crises," he said in a speech. "We will not accept a bill that does not meet that test."