WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate Banking Committee will begin hammering out new rules for the financial system on Monday, two years after Bear Stearns' collapse ushered in the worst financial crisis in decades.
Republicans plan to introduce about 300 amendments to attempt to weaken or kill key provisions of a regulatory reform bill developed over months of negotiation by the committee's Democratic chairman, Senator Christopher Dodd.
Whether a bill emerges as Dodd hopes by Friday, when Congress is set to adjourn for two weeks, is uncertain.
Failure to produce a bill in the Senate could doom hopes for a broad rewrite of financial rules meant to ward off future crises like the one that punished the U.S. economy with its deepest recession since the Great Depression, dragging much of the global economy down with it.
Dodd has the votes to ram a Democratic bill through the committee. He may do that if he senses Republicans are not interested in legislating and want only to keep President Barack Obama and Democrats from achieving a top objective.
But some key Republicans on the committee maintain they want to reform financial regulation, and recognize Congress needs to act quickly since lawmakers will soon refocus on political campaigns ahead of the November elections.
The committee is slated to begin its bill-drafting session at 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) on Monday. It could last all week.
If a bill emerges with no Republican support, Democrats would be hard-pressed to muster the 60 votes that will almost certainly be needed to move the legislation through the full Senate, where Republicans now routinely throw up procedural roadblocks. The Democrats control only 59 votes.
REFORM COULD BE DOOMED
Since the crisis peaked a year and a half ago, financial reform proposals have been fiercely debated, with Republicans allying themselves with the deeply unpopular financial industry as it fights to block reforms that threaten bank profits.
The House of Representatives approved a bill in December that embraced most of the reform proposals made by Obama in mid-2009. The House bill passed with no Republican votes.
In the Senate committee, documents obtained by Reuters show Republicans plan a wide assault on Dodd's bill.
The documents summarize amendments that target a proposed inter-agency council to monitor financial system risk, a fund for liquidating distressed firms, and a plan to shift oversight of hundreds of small banks out of the Federal Reserve.
Republicans plan to offer amendments to strip Dodd's proposed Financial Stability Oversight Council of the power to assign risky nonbank financial firms to Fed supervision, according to the documents.
In another example, one Republican amendment would delete a provision in Dodd's bill establishing a fund to help pay for orderly liquidations of distressed financial firms, which is meant to preventing more AIG-style bailouts.
STATE BANKS IN PLAY
Republicans also want to amend Dodd's bill to block his plan to transfer supervision of hundreds of state-chartered banks with assets of less than $50 billion to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp from the Fed, the documents show.
The summary says Republicans want to delete major portions of the Dodd bill dealing with over-the-counter derivatives regulation and new rules for credit-rating agencies, while referring to unspecified Republican substitute plans.
The summary says that Senator Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the committee, alone plans 110 amendments, more than any lawmaker, followed by Senator Bob Corker with 98.
It says 12 Democrats plan to offer 94 amendments.
Other contentious issues up for debate include a new watchdog for financial products.
Democrats and Republicans generally agree that regulations should be reformed in order to strengthen the financial system and plug regulatory gaps, but they have clashed over the breadth of the rules and the role of government.
Senators are considering changes to the so-called Volcker rule that clamps down on banks' risky activities. Senators including Dodd have expressed doubts over the proposal.
Already Dodd has watered down one of the White House's key reforms -- an independent watchdog for consumer financial products such as mortgages and credit cards.
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