Mission Impossible: Financial Bill Deadline

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Democrats locking horns on financial reform are in a pickle. As Politico reports today, some Dems with a hand in crafting the Senate’s Wall Street overhaul have begun to doubt whether a Memorial Day deadline is at all realistic for delivering a bill to President Obama. And they’re probably right: That would mean a majority in the Senate agreed to a politically palatable bill, passed it, then both the House and Senate reconciled their two pieces of legislation and sent the combined bill to the president. In a little under two months. When it took the Senate banking committee, led by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), far longer just to get out of committee.

The fear among Democrats, the Politico story highlights, is that a May 31 deadline, which the administration put in place, will imbue financial reform talks with the same partisan flame-throwing that so marred the health care debate. Ditching the deadline, worried Dems say, could allow for improved negotiations and a better shot at a bipartisan financial reform bill. It might also blunt the public blowback seen with the health care bill’s passage. A number of outsiders—lobbyists, former government officials—quoted in the Politico story say the deadline was more a rhetorical flourish than anything, an effort by Obama and Co. to keep Congress’ talks moving at a rapid clip.

Not only that, but there’s the fear that any major legislation considered after Memorial Day will be overtaken by campaigning for the looming fall elections. That’s certainly true for vulnerable Dems—those who voted for health care, for instance—who’ll be spending much of the second half of 2010 clawing to keep their seat and, inevitably, less concerned about systemic risk and capital restrictions and consumer protection agencies. It’s sad, but a reality—especially in what’s shaping up to be a tough midterm election for Democrats, among them those fighting for financial reform.

Of course, no one who’s closely followed financial reform believes the Memorial Day deadline means anything. After all, Dodd said early last year that he expected a financial bill to be completed by year’s end. Well, it’s April 2010, and the full Senate hasn’t even begun talks. What remains to be seen, and what really matters, is whether the Democratic leadership will be able to juggle writing new financial reforms and helping party members campaign to keep their seats. It’s a balancing act that could land them what they want on both accounts.

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