Senator Chris Dodd said the panel is committed to ensuring that taxpayers will not have to bail out Wall Street firms again.
GOP offers a weaker finance overhaul bill
Partisan disputes dominate debate on legislation
WASHINGTON — Republicans offered a weaker alternative to consumer protection measures that are central to President Obama’s Wall Street regulation plan, opening a new front yesterday in the Senate debate over how to rein in financial institutions.
The Senate pivoted straight into that confrontation after reaching a compromise on how to dismantle large failing firms. In that agreement, senators voted, 93-5, to eliminate a contentious $50 billion fund that would have been used to pay for a firm’s liquidation.
The Senate also voted, 96-1, to protect taxpayers from losses. But the government would still have to put money up front to cover the costs of a firm’s orderly dissolution. That money would be recovered through the sale of the failed firm’s assets and by forcing shareholders and creditors to take substantial losses.
“While we have had our differences in other areas, we have always shared a commitment to ensuring that taxpayers will never again be forced to bail out giant Wall Street firms that fail,’’ Senate Banking Committee chairman Christopher Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, said of his agreement with the committee’s top Republican, Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama.
But that agreement belied the remaining partisan disputes. And no disagreement displayed partisan differences more than the divide over consumer protections. The Republican plan would limit the enforcement power of a proposed consumer protection bureau and make its rules subject to approval by a top banking regulator.
The White House was quick to object. Spokeswoman Amy Brundage called the Republican proposal “nothing more than a lobbyist-influenced defense of the status quo and an attempt to water down the consumer protections’’ in the bill.
“We will not accept this,’’ Brundage said.
The GOP plan would create a division of consumer protection within the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to oversee nonbank mortgage companies and write consumer regulations. The FDIC would have to sign off on those rules.
In contrast, the Democratic plan backed by the Obama administration would create an independent bureau within the Federal Reserve to police lending and other customer financial service transactions. It would have a freer hand to enforce its regulations.
In another departure from the pending Democratic bill, the Republican plan would continue the practice of having federal laws override state laws. Under the Democratic proposal, states would be allowed to write and enforce tougher laws, a provision opposed by the financial industry.
Creating a new consumer financial protection entity within the government is a central piece of the Obama administration’s regulatory package. Obama has said he would veto legislation that contained consumer protections he deems too weak.
Republicans have complained that the Senate Democratic proposal, which is not as ambitious as the administration’s, would be too sweeping and create a patchwork of state rules.
The consumer measure is one of an array of hurdles facing the legislation. But while debate was well on its way, the endgame for the bill was far from clear.
“The Republicans have stopped us from doing anything on this bill,’’ Senate majority leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said yesterday. Reid has said he wants to complete the bill by the end of next week.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the legislation should take longer to debate to permit votes on numerous amendments.
“I must tell you, I don’t think this is a couple-of-weeks bill,’’ he said Tuesday. “It’s not that we don’t want to pass it, but we do want to cover the subject.’’
The parties agreed to drop a provision in the bill that would require banks to gather data about their customers and track the information by census tract. The provision was designed to help enforce consumer protections, but critics have said the provision was too onerous on financial firms.
Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, obtained bipartisan support for an amendment that would require an extensive audit of the Federal Reserve. Administration and Fed officials were opposing the measure, saying it would interfere with the Fed’s independence in setting monetary policy.