Obama address set to ramp up financial reform battle

President Obama will speak in New York Thursday, calling for 'swift Senate action' on a financial reform bill that would aim to curb Wall Street excesses. He'll need at least one GOP vote.

Charles Dharapak/AP
Sen. Chris Dodd (D) of Connecticut, chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, speaks to reporters about financial reform on Wall Street after a news conference in Washington Monday.

On the eve of Senate consideration of financial regulatory reform, President Obama and other top administration officials are ramping up pressure to pass the overhaul.

The president will travel to New York City on Thursday to push for financial reform, the White House announced Monday. In remarks at Cooper Union, a New York school of art, architecture, and engineering, he will call for “swift Senate action” and “remind Americans what is at stake if we do not move forward with changing the rules of the road as a part of a strong Wall Street reform package,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement.

In another sign the administration is working aggressively to get the votes to bring legislation to the floor later this week, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner was to meet with Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine on Monday. This followed a meeting last week between Secretary Geithner and Sen. Scott Brown (R) of Massachusetts.

The Democrats need at least one Republican vote to halt a GOP filibuster, and those two are among the more moderate Republican senators potentially willing to allow a floor vote.

The announcement Friday that the Securities and Exchange Commission was suing banking giant Goldman Sachs for alleged fraudulent behavior has energized Democrats to fight for reform and heightened the partisan clash.

Republicans: bill 'guarantees' government meddling

On Sunday, speaking on CNN, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell criticized the bill as another Obama administration intrusion into private industry and said it contained a “bailout fund” that “guarantees” future government interventions into troubled firms.

Democrats argue just the opposite – that the $50 billion fund (created with money from the banks themselves) would allow for orderly dissolution of troubled firms, and that the Senate bill overall would set up new regulatory practices to prevent the kind of meltdown that brought the US economy to the brink of collapse.

With November midterms less than seven months away, the political stakes are high. Obama and the Democrats are trying to build on the momentum they gained from passing health-care reform, and the Republicans are trying to stop this momentum.

But if the bill passes, Republicans can at least add to their argument that the Obama adminstration is all about federal intrusion into the private sector – following passage of a health-care law that includes an individual mandate to purchase insurance and heightened government regulation of the health insurance industry.

Still, full-on opposition to Obama’s financial reform could be risky for the Republicans. Polls show public leeriness of the financial industry is high, and so being seen as opposed to reining it in could create an image of a GOP as a protector of big, rapacious banks.

A bipartisan bill or not?

As with health-care reform, Senator McConnell and the Republicans argue the Democrats should ditch the current version of reform and work with them on a more bipartisan solution.

Democrats argue that there has been Republican input in the Senate bill, including cooperation from Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee.

“Bob Corker and I have been working at this for a year,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D) of Virginia on CNN Sunday. “I know Judd Gregg and Jack Reed have been working on it. There’s a lot of bipartisan action here. This should not be a partisan bill. My hope is we can get a bill that will get 75 votes.”

Senator Gregg is a Republican from New Hampshire who is retiring at the end of this year, leading some analysts to suggest that he might be willing to buck a filibuster and allow a floor vote. Senator Reed is a Democrat from Rhode Island.

On Sunday, Senator Brown told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that he would filibuster the bill as it is currently written. Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, speaking on Fox News Sunday, said he too opposes the bill, but felt a deal could be worked out.

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