Republicans led by U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss lost a key round in the political fight over financial reform Wednesday, says my AJC colleague Bob Keefe in Washington.
But Chambliss and other key GOP lawmakers nonetheless say they’re more optimistic than ever about a sweeping bipartisan bill that could come to a vote in Congress within the next week.
“We’ve narrowed it down to a limited number of areas where we disagree, and we’re going to work very hard to try and see if we can bridge the gap between us … and get a good bill,” said Chambliss, Georgia’s senior senator.
The Senate agriculture committee on Wednesday passed a bill from Democratic Chairman Blanche Lincoln that would impose strict new rules on derivatives, the risky financial instruments that were at the epicenter of last year’s financial industry meltdown.
In doing so, the committee voted against a less-strict version proposed by Chambliss, the ranking Republican on the committee. One Republican, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, voted for the Democrat’s version.
The derivatives bill is expected to be folded into the bigger Restoring American Financial Stability Act making its way through the Senate.
Despite the Republican set back, Chambliss said the committee’s negotiations showed “there’s a bipartisan spirit” now surrounding the banking legislation.
That’s a major shift from just a few days ago, when Chambliss, Georgia colleague Johnny Isakson and all 39 other Senate Republicans signed a letter denouncing the financial reform legislation proposed by congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama, setting the tone for what some had feared would a highly partisan battle akin to that over health care reform.
Obama is scheduled to travel to New York on Thursday to give a speech pushing for the speedy passage of financial industry reform.
“We’re making more progress and I’m more optimistic than I’ve ever been” about a bipartisan bill, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Senate banking committee, said at a press conference with Chambliss.
Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison indicated Congress may be getting the message that Americans want results, not bipartisan bickering like that which characterized the health care reform legislation.
“This is the way that I think legislation should be approached, rather than all partisan and heavy-handed,” she said. “America doesn’t like it and it’s not right for Congress either.”
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