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Senators Split Off to Strike Deals

Senators are increasingly practicing the art of divide and conquer.

The most recent example came when Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) assigned a handful of working groups to try to find consensus on the sweeping financial reform bill, Dodd asked six Senators to pair up into three groups to find a way forward on the massive reform bill. The move is one in a series by Senate Democrats, who in the face of opposition to major legislative endeavors are breaking off into smaller groups to try to build a consensus.

For instance, Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) has worked for months with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to woo Republican support to a climate change bill, Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) gathered a gang of six to draft a health care measure that could win over GOP votes in his committee, and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) is working with moderate Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) to forge a deal on health care plan that can attract 60 votes to pass the chamber.

“I do think that it is kind of just the politics of today, that it doesn’t take 51 votes, it takes 60 votes to get everything done,— a Senate Democratic aide said. “It gives people an opportunity to have their voices heard.—

The aide noted the move also gives Dodd, the No. 2 Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions panel, more time to work on health care reform.

Republicans, and to a lesser extent Democrats, aired concerns about Dodd’s bill last week during an executive committee session, prompting the chairman to call for the working groups. Dodd paired up Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), and Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) to come up with fresh proposals on various sections of the bill.

Dodd, meanwhile, is working with Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs ranking member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), and has asked the six paired-off Senators to report back next week “to see if there’s enough progress to continue,— another Democratic aide said.

But if the bipartisan approach does not appear to break the stalemate on the financial overhaul, Dodd could press ahead with a markup of his bill. Democratic and Republican aides, however, are doubtful Dodd’s measure could reach the floor this year.

“I think if Dodd can show he has the votes, then Shelby will participate, but I think he needs that demonstrated in a public way so he’s got room to make a deal,— the aide said.

During last week’s executive session, Shelby blasted the Dodd bill and said it “requires a complete rewrite.—

Shelby has been highly critical of Dodd’s proposal to create an autonomous consumer protection agency that is not tied to another regulatory agency.

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