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Head On Collision: Republicans Threaten To Block Debate On Financial Reform

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Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has rounded up 40 signatures on a letter, to be delivered to Democratic leadership, pushing for a compromise package that has pre-cooked bipartisan support. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) is the sole Republican who has not signed on yet--but though she's been long viewed as a potential crossover vote, she's decided to oppose the Dodd bill in its current form.

"I oppose Senator Dodd's bill," Collins said today, adding:

If the letter says I don't support the bill, I am happily going to sign it. I am still talking with my colleagues about whether a letter is the most effective way to send the message, or whether there are better ways, and those discussions are still ongoing. I agree with my colleagues that the Dodd bill is deeply flawed. But, as a former financial regulator, I also feel strongly that the current system is very flawed. We need a financial regulatory bill, just not this one.

McConnell's office isn't releasing the letter, and it's unclear whether it contains an explicit threat to vote against a motion to begin debating the legislation--in fact one source says the letter draws no bright lines. But some key signatories suggested tonight that they would indeed block it from coming to the floor.

"The spirit is you try to get a good, substantive bipartisan bill," Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), the Republican's lead financial reform negotiator, told reporters just off the Senate floor. "I think we should not rush to [debate] while we're negotiating."

That sentiment was echoed by Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH), who's retiring at the end of the year, and thought to be a key swing vote on regulatory reform. "I want our guys to have a shot at the table," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today that he'd like to bring the bill to the floor by the end of next week, leaving precious little time for this impasse to be broken. If it's not broken, and Republicans successfully filibuster the motion to proceed to debate, Democrats will have to decide whether to make concessions to the GOP, or whether to hold out and hope political pressure does the trick.