Don’t Make The Same Mistake Twice: The One Way Dems’ Health Care Win Might Help Pass Financial Reform

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March 30, 2010 9:33 a.m.
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In the wake of the passage of health care reform, Senate Republicans say that they’re less willing to work with Democrats than they were in the past–if such a thing is even possible. But at the same time, multiple key GOP senators say they’re certain one major initiative–financial regulatory reform–will pass the Senate this year.

“I think it’s going to be very, very difficult — very difficult — to get 41 members [to sustain a filibuster],” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said in a speech last week.

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), who was tapped to serve as a Republican negotiator in an early round of the regulatory reform debate, told reporters last week he was “100 percent” certain that a major bill would pass this year.And that raises a question: While reinforcing Republican opposition to most other issues, did health care reform make the passage of regulatory reform more likely? Conversations with multiple Democratic Senate aides all point to a common, underlying fact: financial regulatory reform is a sui generis issue–one which, as Corker implied, members of both parties will have a hard time voting against. However, at the height of their opposition to health care reform, Republicans had convinced themselves that the bill was dead, and so they came to see their program of opposition as a no-lose enterprise. If health care reform had died, that may have driven the GOP toward a stauncher opposition to regulatory reform. But so long as they see its passage as inevitable, they have the incentive to play along.

“If we had failed in passage, Republicans would be emboldened,” one aide told me. “I don’t see how they’ll message their way out of this one.”

“If it looks like financial reform is going to pass, aren’t they going to want to have a hand in shaping this thing?” asked another aide rhetorically.

And, indeed, there are some signs that Republicans are beginning to question whether it’s the brightest idea to let Democrats own this issue–and paint the GOP into a corner with the unpopular financial sector. Last week, after Senate Banking Committee Chair Chris Dodd advanced a Dem-only bill, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL)–the committee’s ranking member–came back to the table for the third time in the past several months.

Perhaps that leads to substantial GOP support, or perhaps it doesn’t, but Dodd–burned by several rounds of Republican bad faith–says, deal or no, he wants his bill to come to the Senate floor shortly after Congress returns from recess two weeks from now.

Last week, as the Democrats rounded up major victories on health care reform, Dodd told me and several other reporters, “I think, frankly, there are a number of Republicans who went along with the strategy of ‘just say no’ who were never really happy with it, but if it worked they would go along. They saw it fail. And now they’ve had enough of it. and they really want to be involved in crafting things.”

That may be overstating things. But if health care reform gave one legislative issue a boost, regulatory reform might be the one.

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