Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) opened the Wall Street reform conference committee Thursday vowing to block attempts to weaken the measure, as Republicans accused Democrats of falling short of promises to make the proceeding the most open of its kind in years.
A committee of 28 House and Senate members gathered for the first time to begin reconciling different versions of a bill overhauling the nation’s financial system, inviting C-SPAN cameras and dozens of reporters to watch its work. The lawmakers presented a series of opening statements that echoed the arguments both sides have been making for weeks.
“I don’t want to see this bill weakened at all,” Dodd said. “Many expected the Senate bill to get watered down, but that is not what happened. When the issues were debated on the Senate floor, our colleagues voted to strengthen the bill, adding reforms. It is our hope this conference will meet the same result.”
But Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, the ranking Republican on the Banking Committee, argued the bill amounts to little more than “another grand Democrat experiment in Big Government and central management.”
“Throughout this process, I have encouraged you and my Democrat colleagues to focus on the root causes and resist the urge to exploit the crisis to enact a wish list of extraneous special-interest provisions,” Shelby said. “It appears, however, that the majority is going to impose their will and this bill will likely become law.”
Shelby and his Republican colleagues criticized Democrats for releasing a revised version of the base bill only hours before the conference committee was set to meet. They said the last-minute changes belied Democratic pledges to make the committee’s work fully transparent.
“It appears that we are off to a rocky start because the base text before the conference was negotiated and compiled behind closed doors and without any Republican participation,” Shelby said. “Granted, our respective chairmen have scheduled a number of public meetings, but I suspect there have been a number of private meetings where legislative language has been coordinated and drafted without any public access or Republican input.
“It appears, at this point, that the only facet of this conference that will be public is when the Republicans get our one and only chance to amend what has already been decided by our Democrat colleagues behind closed doors,” Shelby said.
House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the conference committee chairman, acknowledged that part of the proceedings would take place behind closed doors. Still, by Capitol Hill standards, the committee is expected to be one of the more open of its kind in years. The lawmakers will strategize on proposed amendments privately, but Democrats have promised to codify those decisions in public.
“This is going to be a very open process,” Frank said. “Nothing will be put into this final bill that is not advanced, openly debated, subject to amendment by the conference process and voted on.”
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) defended her controversial provision requiring banks to spin off their derivatives operations — a proposal that could cost Wall Street billions of dollars in annual revenue. It will be among the most watched proposals of the conference committee, which is expected to take about two weeks to complete its work.
“This provision will ensure our community banks on Main Street won’t pay the price for reckless behavior on Wall Street,” Lincoln said.