WASHINGTON — Democrats and Republicans escalated the war of words over regulatory reform on Tuesday, with the GOP saying the current bill is unacceptable and the White House objecting to any compromise.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Dodd said he was still talking to numerous parties involved in the debate, and remained optimistic that the bill would pass the Senate. He said he assumed that Republican support for the bill would emerge and left the door open to their input.
"Staffs are constantly talking and working," Dodd told reporters. "There's nothing written in marble or granite, so I'm interested in hearing what ideas people bring to the table and hopefully we'll get [the bill] up, and when we do I'm confident we'll pass a bill."
Although Democrats need only one Republican to support the legislation in order to ensure its passage, Dodd said he expected many more to ultimately vote for it.
"I don't think it's going to be a question of one," he said. "My own sense … is there are a lot of Republicans who want to be part of solutions around here and they are kind of exhausted by this 'just say no to everything.' That's not why they're here."
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Richard Shelby, the Banking Committee's lead Republican, had an entirely different view. McConnell said Republicans were unified in opposing the Dodd bill, saying it did not go far enough to end "too big to fail," and would perpetuate taxpayer-funded bailouts. "This bill makes the mistake of allowing a permanent taxpayer bailout of Wall Street banks," he said.
McConnell said the White House is disturbing bipartisan negotiations. "This effort by the White House to turn this into the most partisan bill ought to stop," he said. "They ought to tell Sen. Dodd he ought to re-engage with Sen. Shelby and let's get it right and do it on a bipartisan basis."
Shelby said he was still hopeful an agreement could be reached, but that the bill as currently drafted would have no GOP support.
"I don't believe that bill would pass the Senate," Shelby said. "I don't know of any Republicans right now that would support it, and I know there are a lot of Democrats who have probably got qualms about it, too."
Asked if Dodd may break from the White House, Shelby said the Connecticut Democrat "has been a pretty independent veteran senator for a long time."
"I hope that he'll continue in that vein, but the White House, as you all know, will try to weigh in on major pieces of legislation, especially this," Shelby said.
The Obama administration, meanwhile, appeared dead set against compromise. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner warned Tuesday that Republicans were trying to water down the bill.
"The initial strategy was to delay … the strategy now will be to weaken it with exemptions that are hard to understand," Geithner said at a convention hosted by the American Society of Newspaper Editors.
Amy Brundage, a White House spokeswoman, said the White House would not accept a weaker bill. "The president has been clear that he will fight efforts to weaken the Wall Street reform bill moving through Congress and he remains hopeful that Republicans in Congress will join us in pushing for a strong bill," she said by e-mail.
In a conference call with reporters, Treasury Deputy Secretary Neal Wolin said GOP claims were baseless. "If you march through the various assertions" Republicans have made "and compare them to the plain language of the bill that's pending, they're just not borne out," he said.
The latest wrangling appeared related to ongoing negotiations over a section of the bill designed to regulate derivatives. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the No. 1 Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said that he still hoped to reach a deal on derivatives legislation with the panel's chairman, Blanche Lincoln, but said Geithner was interfering. "It's almost too obvious that the White House may not want a bipartisan agreement," Chambliss said.