Senate's Wall Street bill in homestretch

By Jennifer Liberto, senior writer

WASHINGTON ( -- Democrats say they want this to be the week that they wrap up changes to the Wall Street reform bill that aims to stop bailouts, shine a light on complex financial products and strengthen consumer protection.

But they need Republicans to help them. And while there has been some GOP support, it isn't coming fast enough for the Dems' taste.

Nobody knows for sure exactly when the Senate will vote on the final overhaul that's been more than a year in the making. But veteran lobbyists for banks and consumer groups believe that the vote will take place by the end of next week.

That may take a bit of effort. On Monday, the Senate debated changes, but held off voting on them until Tuesday. Of the 205 amendments filed as of Tuesday morning, so far the Senate has only voted on about 11 of them.

"We nominally started the debate last week," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., on Monday. "We could have done a lot better. We wasted a lot of time."

A slew of controversial amendments remain, including an effort to strip a ban on Wall Street banks from trading derivatives and another to exempt auto loans from tougher rules for all consumer financial products.

As of Monday, there wasn't a single overarching issue that threatened final passage, but a bunch of concerns could hold things up. In addition, Republicans said they hope that all their amendments can be heard.

"Let's not pull the debate on this prematurely," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who is working on an amendment to impose stronger standard of fiduciary responsibility on broker dealers, such as Goldman Sachs, when they advise investors.

"At the end of the day, I hope we can vote on a bill that commands the support of 70 members of this Senate," Collins said.

Here are the big changes the Senate is expected to consider in the next two weeks:

Federal Reserve: The Senate voted 96-0 on Tuesday approving a watered-down version of an effort to make the Federal Reserve more accountable. The measure orders the congressional investigative agency to conduct a one-time review of discount loans the Fed made during the height of the financial crisis.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: A high-profile amendment by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., would break government-backed mortgage financiers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from government control and eventually liquidate them. This is expected to fail.

Consumer protection: A handful of amendments would reshape a new consumer protection regulator for mortgages and credit cards. Republican will try to curtail the regulator's powers and make it work more with existing regulators. Also expected are efforts to remove auto loans and possibly other financial products from more oversight. These could be close votes.

State preemption: Currently, no state is allowed to pass consumer protection laws that hold banks to a higher standard than they face under federal laws. The Democrats' version would allow states to pre-empt the federal government when it comes to consumer protection laws. Expect efforts to weaken that measure. This could be a close vote.

Derivatives: Lots of amendments will aim to change parts of the bill that deal with derivatives, the complex trades that played a key role in the recent financial crisis.

First up will be an effort to strip out a highly controversial move to ban banks from trading derivatives, which is opposed by bothFDIC Chairman Sheila Bair and former Fed chairman Paul Volcker. In addition, many amendments would allow some kinds of derivatives, such as contracts written before the law would take effect, to escape tougher rules that would force them onto exchanges.

Last week, a key vote on a controversial consumer protection amendment signaled that the Senate is inching toward a bipartisan final passage.

Assuming they stick together, the 59 Democrats need just one Republican to trump a filibuster. And two Republicans, Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, voted with Democrats to oppose a Republican measure to water down the consumer protection regulator. To top of page

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