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Legislative Updates: April 2010

 

Capitol Call

In Congress, timetables operate differently than in normal life. Often, if legislation has not begun to move by March of the second session of Congress, it is unlikely to advance at any point during the session. To an outsider this may seem strange because the 2010 election is not until November, over 7 months from now. Ostensibly, that would give Congress plenty of time to enact multiple legislative priorities. But, especially during an election year, if a legislative issue has not been taken up by the end of March, it is likely to be crowded out by the many competing legislative interests filling up the limited Congressional schedule.

It is important to know this when considering the progress Congress made on a variety of legislative fronts in March. As everyone is aware, President Obama signed into law last month legislation that will drastically change the way health care is administered in our country. President Obama and the Democratic leadership realized that time was running short and decided to go forward on the bill without Republican support. The result was a hard-fought victory and a major legislative accomplishment for the Democrats. However as March became the make-or-break month for the bill, one of the possible consequences is that other issues-- such as climate change and immigration reform-- will not be taken up this year because of the time and political capital spent on health care reform.

Coming off the enactment of his signature health care reform package, President Obama and his Democratic colleagues have set their sights on financial regulatory reform. Of course, Senate Banking Committee (SBC) Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) has been working on financial reform for many months now, negotiating with Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) in an attempt to fashion a bipartisan bill. Seeing his window of opportunity narrow by the day, he chose in mid-March to cut off negotiations and introduce his own bill because he felt the time had come to get the bill out of the Committee. Republicans were obviously frustrated but the more liberal members of the Committee were pleased, because the closer he got to a deal with the Republicans the further away he got from the priorities of many of the members of his Democratic caucus.

In the end, Chairman Dodd ended up introducing his own legislation, a 1336-page bill that includes a consumer protection agency that many liberals and President Obama have embraced. The securities-related components of the legislation include portfolio margining and a mechanism to resolve jurisdictional disputes between the CFTC and SEC. The bill attracted no Republican support and was passed on March 22 without any amendments by a party-line vote of 13-10. Committee Republicans decided to wait until the full Senate takes up the measure before they attempt to amend the bill. They had prepared over 400 amendments prior to the markup, many of which will be introduced when the bill is debated on the Senate floor.

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