Senate shows effort on finance measure
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WASHINGTON -- Something unusual is taking place on the Senate floor: Republicans and Democrats are working together on a major piece of legislation.
Almost as the founders planned it, senators are considering amendments to a massive financial regulatory bill without any of the usual procedural obstructions that eat up time and force 60-vote thresholds to be overcome before anything can happen. Democrats are co-sponsoring Republican amendments and vice versa, and some measures are winning unanimous or near-unanimous majorities.
Lawmakers in both parties have embraced the freewheeling environment as a break from the bitter partisanship that marred the health care debate. That acrimony still lingers over the Senate. Bipartisan talks on immigration and climate change collapsed recently, and Republicans are refusing to release "holds" on scores of executive branch nominees.
But the seamless Republican opposition that had been the hallmark of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's tenure has frayed in recent weeks. GOP senators are forging alliances with Democrats and voting against measures offered by fellow Republicans. They are trying to reshape a bill they don't like the old-fashioned way -- in an open process on the Senate floor.
"It is my hope that this bill will not only produce a good product at the end but also have the healing quality that this institution needs," Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., said last week. "We've been through a lot this Congress, and we need to get back to acting like colleagues."
There are no signs that Republicans have lost confidence in Mr. McConnell, acknowledged as a savvy inside operator even by his Democratic opponents. But it does signal that the just-say-no approach he employed until recently has its limits, particularly in an election year when voters are angry at both parties and appear to be gravitating to outsiders.
How long this reasonable phase will last is an open question. Republicans are predicting smooth passage for President Barack Obama's Supreme Court pick. A food-safety bill headed to the Senate floor later this month has picked up GOP cosponsors. Senate Republican leadership aides said upcoming debates over unemployment and war funding could prove anticlimactic, provided Democrats refrain from attaching unrelated provisions.
Or the goodwill could vanish quickly. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has already bickered with Mr. McConnell, who represents Kentucky, over scheduling particulars, with Mr. Reid eager to finish the financial overhaul bill this week and Mr. McConnell seeking more time.
By Thursday night, 53 senators had offered more than 140 amendments, and only nine amendments had come to a vote. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., announced that 20 GOP senators had lined up to speak about his proposal to end federal support for the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Mr. Reid suspected a plot to stall debate. "We do not need a filibuster by some other name," he said.
But Mr. McConnell said his goal was to see the amendments come to votes. "We are going to work hard to get them in the queue and to get them voted on," he said.
First Published May 9, 2010 12:00 am