The Republican rhetoric sounded tough on financial regulatory reform early this week.
“Shame on the president,” said Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), who complained that President Barack Obama was derailing bipartisan negotiations on Wall Street reform for short-term political gain.
But behind such tough talk is a realization within Republican ranks that several of their own may find themselves voting with Obama when the final Wall Street reform deal comes together. “Some feel like you need to vote for it, just because it’s a popular measure,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
What’s striking about the potential GOP “yes” votes is how they differ from the usual suspects who were the focus of such heated speculation during the health care debate.
In addition to such perennial GOP maybes as Graham and Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, lobbyists are also talking about Republican senators closer to the core of the party who might side with Obama, including Bob Bennett of Utah and perhaps even John McCain of Arizona.
Call them the unusual suspects.
Democrats need at least one GOP vote, and the speculation is intensifying as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) says he wants to bring the bill to the Senate floor as early as next week. But one Republican financial lobbyist predicts a domino effect if Republicans get on board: “If one goes, 20 will go. It will be ‘open the floodgates.’”
Here are the eight senators Wall Street is watching most closely:
The Georgian is the ranking member on the Senate Agriculture Committee, where he has taken a lead role in negotiating the derivatives piece of the bill with Democratic chairwoman Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. Derivatives are enormously important to large agribusinesses that use them to hedge commodity price risks, but Chambliss has his nose out of joint because Lincoln introduced a liberal-friendly version of the bill without his input earlier this week.
Still, if the bill can somehow be dragged back toward him, Chambliss may want to be part of the deal. “We would like to get a bipartisan bill,” he said. “We would all like to eliminate this too-big-to-fail issue. That’s not an issue that’s going to have any disagreement between Democrats and Republicans. How we get there is where the disagreements will be.”
Can you say “Dodd-Chambliss?”
He was mad at the president at the beginning of the week. But some on Wall Street are convinced that by the end of the debate he’ll be with Obama for the final vote. That’s because he’s a Massachusetts Republican, after all, despite his tea party cred and high-profile campaign against Obama’s health care bill. Republicans are a rare enough breed in New England, and they generally don’t survive long if they don’t hew close to the political center.
“The bottom line is, where there are problems [on Wall Street], we should fix them,” Brown said. And he added that he will take a hard look at the proposals, on which he is just getting up to speed. “I’m not going to vote on anything or make any statements until I read the bills,” he said.
The first-term senator from Tennessee shocked his GOP colleagues by stepping up to take over the role of lead Republican negotiator on regulatory reform when negotiations between Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd and ranking Republican Richard Shelby broke down. That’s a no-no in the seniority-obsessed Senate, but Corker made himself into an integral deal maker on the bill.
Now that Shelby’s back at the table, Corker may relish a chance to be the closer. Lobbyists wonder whether he wants the bill to be named “Dodd-Corker,” to secure a place in financial history.
“I think we all want to see financial regulation take place; I really do,” said Corker. And of the areas in dispute, he said, “These things are very solvable. It just takes a little grind-it-out work.”
Corker also has made it clear that he thinks the Republicans would be making a political mistake to stand against the bill. “I will be stunned if we do not reach a bipartisan agreement. … Unfortunately, the winds are blowing — there’s lots of things happening here that don’t aid that effort, but at the end of the day, I think we’re going to have a solid bipartisan effort,” he told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Thursday.
Many lobbyists say they are watching Obama’s former presidential rival — perhaps the most unusual of the unusual suspects — because he’s engaged in a heated Arizona Republican primary with former Rep. J. D. Hayworth. Financial observers have concluded that McCain’s vote will depend entirely on his analysis of how it plays among Arizona primary voters.
“If McCain decides that doing this will help him beat J.D. Hayworth, he’ll do it,” says one.
McCain formed an unlikely alliance with Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) to propose reinstating the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act, which separated commercial banking from investment banking. That law was repealed in the late 1990s, and many critics say it allowed for the growth of mammoth and risky investment banks. Fully reinstating the law would be further than the Obama administration has proposed.
But for now, Wall Street can breathe easy. Asked if he or other Republicans might vote for the bill, McCain offered a terse “no” and stepped quickly into an elevator.
The Utah Republican is another old-line senator facing a tough primary fight back home, which means many put him in the same category as McCain — a possible yes, but only if it plays well on the ground in Utah.
Bennett seemed more open to the idea than McCain, telling POLITICO simply, “I think it’s far too early to engage in that sort of speculation.”
He’s retiring this year, which gives the Missouri senator a lot of freedom — and puts him squarely in the cross hairs of the administration, which is targeting GOP retirees for special wooing. But asked if he would support the bill, Bond said he’d vote for it “when there’s a decent bill.” But, he said, “there’s so many problems with this bill now.” He would not elaborate.
Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins
Both Maine senators are moderates and squarely in the usual-suspects camp, because each was earlier seen as a potential defector on health care.
“I’m looking at everything,” Snowe said. “I have not made any decisions.”
For her part, Collins said, “We need to prevent large financial firms from holding taxpayers hostage. I’m still looking at issues.”
Collins said she’s got a host of concerns, including the bill approach on too big to fail, the authority of a proposed council of financial regulators, gaps in regulatory authority and derivatives.