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Bachus Fights to Regain Trust of Colleagues

A year after Financial Services ranking member Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) was brushed aside by his party’s leadership during the high-stakes negotiations over the $700 billion bailout, Republicans are still searching for their voice on the issue with massive regulatory bills heading to the floor.

House Republicans have aggressively opposed the creation of a new regulatory regime governing derivatives and other financial products, arguing that they are trying to protect access to credit, not Wall Street. But they have not tapped a clear-cut leader on the issue, particularly one who can go toe-to-toe with Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.). Instead, several rank-and-file Members have emerged to take leading roles as the bills began moving through the Financial Services Committee this week.

Bachus still isn’t fully trusted by House GOP leaders, who have kept him on a fairly short leash following last year’s bailout imbroglio, when they stripped him of any authority to negotiate after they felt he appeared too quick to agree with Democrats. While he survived a tense steering committee vote last year, unease about his leadership on the Financial Services panel has remained. Bachus raised hackles in July during a markup on executive compensation limits when he told Frank repeatedly that the issue was “politically— difficult for Republicans to fight — a view contrary to that of GOP leaders.

Bachus said Wednesday that he’s learned from scrapes he’s had with his own Conference, including last year’s bailout battle and in particular an internal fight over an earlier deal that Bachus reached with Frank on subprime lending regulations — a deal most Republicans ultimately rejected.

“I got a little out of step with a majority of the Members,— Bachus acknowledged, saying he’s been careful to avoid that happening again.

“I think there was a valid criticism that we should improve the communications— with other Republicans, Bachus said, adding that he presented GOP leaders a 40-page paper on improving communications. “I thought it was constructive criticism.—

Democrats say they’ve seen a difference in Bachus, too, and not for the better. Bachus used to be one of the few Republicans whom they felt they could cut a deal with. Indeed — that’s part of what got Bachus into trouble. But Democrats say they’ve gotten word this year that the GOP from the top down isn’t interested in working on cutting deals and ultimately won’t vote for anything they write.

Bachus, for his part, now has skull sessions with other Republicans every Tuesday to make sure everyone is on the same page and has delegated high-profile roles to other committee members — Reps. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) and Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) in particular — giving them authority to negotiate and coordinate amendments with Democrats and take the lead during markups.

“He said he would be more effective at tapping and directing the talent from the committee,— a GOP source said.

Another GOP source said Bachus continues to cause consternation behind the scenes. During a closed-door meeting this week attended by Bachus, Hensarling, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Bachus was largely on message and assured them that Republicans would vote against the bill creating a powerful new consumer protection agency. But after leaders left, Bachus signaled they might work with Democrats part of the way.

“He said Members [on the committee] will vote for amendments but will vote against final passage,— the source said. “You would have never thought he was going to say that if you listened to the rest of that meeting.—

Even if Bachus stays on message, he’s not exactly a firebrand who can fire up the GOP base. For that, they may have to rely on Hensarling, a former chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, and current RSC Chairman Tom Price (Ga.), who also sits on the committee.

Price ripped into the regulatory bills during Wednesday’s Financial Services Committee markup.

“What we’re regulating is a decrease in the American dream,— he said. “It says over and over and over that the government knows best.—

Price predicted the issue would ultimately be a winner for the GOP.

“This is such an overreach,— he said. “This is an absolute job-killer.—

Democrats see the series of measures aimed at reining in Wall Street as a potential slam-dunk political win and are already criticizing Republican leaders as having presided over the economic collapse while fighting to protect Wall Street from tougher oversight.

“If we can’t convince the American people that they want to protect the right of the American people to be cheated blind … then we need to get a different line of work,— Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.) said. “They want to help the financial industry make as much money as they can by cheating the American people.—

Garrett, meanwhile, praised Bachus for empowering his Members. “To Spencer’s credit, from Day One this year he’s tried to be inclusive,— Garrett said, noting his and Hensarling’s expanded roles in particular. “That’s the way he wants to run the show.—

Garrett, who noted the Republicans have an alternative bill focused on improving transparency, said the Republican message is pretty simple — they are trying to make sure that the government doesn’t stifle the marketplace by setting up a whole new oversight regime. “We want our regulations to be better,— he said. “The regulators didn’t do their jobs.—

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