With Health Care Behind Them, Dems Prepare Quick Pivot To Wall Street Reform

Health care’s done. Members of Congress are home, or will be soon, and will spend the next two weeks talking to their constituents about the monumental law they just passed. But when Democrats return to Washington they’ll have to balance their health care sales job with a completely different, and long-brewing initiative: financial regulatory reform. And despite the complete absence of Republican support, they are confidently predicting success.

Though overshadowed in the media by the twists and turns of the health care saga, the Democrats’ efforts to rein in financial industry excess and address the problem of too-big-to-fail institutions have already come a long way. Last year the House passed the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, with zero Republican votes. Last week the Senate Banking Committee advanced its bill on a perfectly party-line vote. And now, with health care behind them, Dems are ready to pivot to that legislation, and are even daring Republicans to obstruct and oppose the initiative.“As we go forward, we will see if the Republicans are willing to reform Wall Street,” Pelosi said at her weekly press conference yesterday. “Regulatory reform, Wall Street reform–we said yes, they said no.”

On Sunday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told me unions will also set their sites on Wall Street after health care’s done.

“I can’t wait for Republicans to stand with the banks against financial regulation and reform, or with the CEOs, who just gave themselves $145 billion in bonuses,” Trumka said. “I can’t wait for that to happen.”

Thusfar, the enterprise has been a purely partisan one. But recently there have been some signs that Republicans are thawing, aware that, with the economy still in the pits, voting against imposing stricter rules on Wall Street is politically toxic. In a significant break from GOP convention, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN)–a leading Republican reg-reform negotiator–said this week that a bill will likely pass, and the Republicans have made a huge tactical error by pulling out of negotiations.

“I find it very difficult to see a scenario where financial regulation doesn’t pass the Senate,” Corker said after an appearance at the Chamber of Commerce. Corker called Republicans’ refusenik approach to the issue a “major strategic error,” and acknowledged that, when time comes to vote, the public–on both the left and the right–will expect the public to vote yes.

That, and the passage of health care, makes Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd confident. “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,” Dodd told reporters yesterday. “They saw it fail. And now they’ve had enough of it. And they really want to be involved in crafting things.”

He’ll have a chance to test that theory once members return from Easter recess next month.