WASHINGTON — President Obama's successful fight to pass healthcare reform has given a bill to revamp the financial system a dramatic boost, lawmakers from both parties said Wednesday.
Two Senate Republicans said they now consider the bill unstoppable, and predicted it would win at least some GOP support when the legislation moves to the floor after lawmakers return from a two-week recess in mid-April. The Republicans were backed by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who spoke to reporters after meeting with President Obama on the issue and said he has seen momentum shifting in his direction.
"I know there are Republicans I serve with in the Senate who frankly don't want the 'just say no' policy when it comes to major legislative initiatives," Dodd said. "So I'm much more optimistic in light of what happened on healthcare. Frankly, the outcome [on] healthcare has strengthened our hand in reaching out to people that would like to be part of the solution."
Political analysts are still dissecting the healthcare vote, but some GOP lawmakers said they cannot treat financial reform the same way. Opposing the bill would likely be seen as siding with Wall Street at a time when there is still widespread populist anger against banks. Lawmakers also acknowledged that while healthcare is a personal issue to many voters, they see regulatory reform differently.
"This is so unlike the healthcare debate," said Sen. Bob Corker, (R-Tenn.) "I don't think people realize that this is an issue that almost every American wants to see passed. There will be a lot of pressure on every senator and every House member to pass financial regulation."
Although the Senate Banking Committee approved the reform bill 13 to 10 on Monday evening without any Republican support, Corker agreed that Democrats are gaining momentum and have a chance to win GOP votes without much further compromise.
"The White House feels they have the wind at their back. I think the dynamics have changed since the bill came out of committee," Corker said. As a result, Corker said, the Republicans have lost a chance to win significant changes to the legislation.
"The leverage that existed up until Monday night is gone, and I think it's far more difficult to get us where we need to go," he said.
Indeed, although Dodd pledged Monday he would continue to work with Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the Banking Committee's top Republican, on the bill, he said Wednesday that he did "not necessarily" need Shelby's support. "We're out of committee. I'm dealing with 99 other senators, not just the 22 in the Banking Committee," he said.
The situation is far different from just two days ago, when analysts predicted that Dodd would have to make major concessions to garner Republican support on the floor. The healthcare victory has altered the political calculus in Washington, and many observers said Republicans are not likely to uniformly oppose the bill.
That view appeared to be shared by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who told reporters Wednesday that the reform bill is unstoppable. "Reg reform will pass regardless of [whether] it's a good bill or a bad bill," he said. "My hope is we will reach a compromise that is bipartisan and substantive. certainly 100% chance it will pass."
Gregg agreed Republicans could not oppose the bill in the same way they fought healthcare reform. "It's not the same type of issue," he said. "This is a technical type of issue. The politics of this are pretty limited."
Some analysts said Democrats now run the risk of overreaching if they attempt to move the Dodd bill further to the left.
"It emboldens the White House and leadership for a bill more to their liking," said Brian Gardner, an analyst with KBW Inc. "If they are too emboldened and overreach, then I expect that they will have problems with moderate and conservative Democrats, which would make it tough to pass a bill on the Senate floor."
Democrats appeared intent Wednesday on presenting a united front on the issue. Appearing alongside Dodd after a meeting with Obama, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank said reform was now the top priority. "When we come back from recess, the No. 1 issue before the U.S. Congress will be this bill in the U.S. Senate," the Massachusetts Democrat said.
"This is now the No. 1 issue the American public will be focusing on, and every single issue in contention, I think, would benefit from that."
Although there are considerable differences between the House reform bill passed in December and Dodd's legislation, Frank said they could all be worked out. "If you look at the House and Senate versions of a major piece of legislation, we are closer on this set of rules than we usually are," Frank said. "That's not an accident."