Senator Dodd's Bipartisan Push on Financial Reform

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Chip Somodevilla / Getty

Senator Chris Dodd, left, confers with Senator Richard Shelby during a hearing on Capitol Hill

Two weeks ago, Senate Banking Committee chairman Chris Dodd unveiled an ambitious, far-reaching plan to reform regulation of America's financial system and quickly found himself facing a brick wall of opposition erected by Republicans, regulators and financial-industry bigwigs. Now he's trying to work with Republicans to get the thing moving again.

In recent days, Dodd has reached across the aisle to the GOP to create bipartisan working groups to tackle the four hardest questions in financial regulatory reform. Each of the working groups includes one Democratic and one Republican Senator from the committee, each of whom has one staffer along at the meetings. Between them, these 16 people are trying to rewrite the way the American financial industry does business — and, as a result, avoid another global financial meltdown. In theory, the process could succeed. "We have points of agreement," says one top GOP staffer. But he adds: "The working groups may not work because the issues are much too complex."

Dodd and Banking Committee ranking Republican Richard Shelby are handling the creation of a consumer-protection agency, something the banking industry strongly opposes. Senators Mark Warner of Virginia and Bob Corker of Tennessee are trying to figure out which governmental bodies — the Fed, the FDIC or a newly created entity — should have the power to dissolve and resell large banks that fail, an issue that has split not just the two parties but the Administration and top regulators. Senators Chuck Schumer and Mike Crapo are tackling new regulation for corporate governance that would try to impose checks on risk-taking CEOs and their weak boards. And Rhode Island's Jack Reed and New Hampshire's Judd Gregg have the thorny issue of regulating the complex derivatives trades that some blame for excessive leveraging that helped precipitate the market collapse of 2008.

Dodd's bill was always cast as intentionally forward-leaning; even top aides and Administration allies said he wanted to start with an ambitious bill and scale it back from there. The question now is how far back that will be. Republicans say they are prepared to agree to something before the Christmas break, but only if Dodd dials back some of the more aggressive elements of his bill.

Shelby wants to impose strong regulation on financial firms to prevent them from getting "too big to fail." He agrees with Dodd that there should be a consolidated regulator for banks, though perhaps not the single supervisor Dodd envisions. But Shelby opposes Dodd's plans for eventually doing away with the 150-year-old division of regulation between state and nationally chartered banks. And he also opposes Dodd's plans for a systemic risk council, which he sees as redundant since bank regulators already are tasked with curtailing overall risk.