Financial reform bill coming from Democrats

By Jennifer Liberto, senior writer


WASHINGTON (CNNMoney.com) -- Senate Democrats on banking panel plan to release and start working on a financial overhaul bill next week, without Republican support.

Senate Banking Chairman Chris Dodd, D-Conn., said Thursday he planned to release a draft bill on Monday, even though a "few outstanding issues remain," including consumer protection.

"The time is shrinking to get this done," Dodd said at a press conference. "I think putting this proposal on the table is not a result of this process breaking down."

He said the committee would take up the bill in the week that starts March 22.

Dodd has been promising to release a draft bill for several weeks, but delayed it while trying to work with key Republicans on the panel.

Regulatory overhaul cannot pass the full Senate without some Republicans on board.

But it also can't pass without full support among Democrats, and several senators have made it clear they do not like the way negotiations are going, especially on the issue on the consumer protection, according to Congressional aides and financial service lobbyists.

The Dodd announcement signaled that he wants to get the process moving even if it doesn't have full Republican support.

Consumer protection

"He felt the need to go ahead, regardless of where we were in the negotiations, to put forth a bill on Monday," said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who has been negotiating with Dodd. "Obviously, that's very disappointing."

Corker said consumer protection was not among the remaining "outstanding issues," that they had negotiated a deal to house a consumer regulator in the Federal Reserve, instead of a stand-alone agency, which the House established in its bill.

But Dodd, at his news conference, said "we're not there yet" in discussing consumer protection.

Sources tell CNN that several Democrats, including Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. and Sen. Ted Kaufman, D-Del., do not like how the negotiated deal on consumer protection houses the regulator inside the Fed.

On Thursday, Kaufman said on the Senate floor that the head of any consumer agency "must not be subject to the authority of any regulator responsible for the safety and soundness of the financial institutions."

And Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. and Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., both told CNN that lawmakers lack agreement about where to house the consumer protection regulator.

Another point of contention: Corker said Dodd has also agreed to allow banks and financial firms to keep their existing regulator when it came to enforcement of new consumer rules. Consumer groups have blasted existing regulators for failing to enforce consumer rules.

Other outstanding issues include derivatives, including how big to make loopholes that would allow some to avoid trading the complex financial products through clearinghouses. Another area up for debate is over how much of a piece of a mortgage that the bank originating the loan should keep, in order to share some of the risk, as it starts chopping up the mortgage to sell to other investors.

Last December, the House passed a sweeping financial overhaul package. The measure would create a stand-alone consumer agency, impose tougher capital cushions for the largest banks and Wall Street firms, and force them to pay billions into an emergency fund that could be tapped when a troubled company needs to be broken up.

Getting a Senate version has been more problematic. Early last month, the ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., officially pulled out of negotiations with committee chairman Dodd over an impasse on the consumer agency. Both left the door open for more talks that have since taken place.

Then Corker stepped up to say he'd work with Dodd in crafting a compromise consumer agency.

The clock is ticking -- veteran Congressional watchers say political will to tackle such a complex initiative could crumble as the campaign season picks up this summer.

-- CNN's Jessica Yellin contributed to this report. To top of page

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