Democrats Fight Back on Reform

Health Care PR Lessons Applied to Banking Bill

Posted April 14, 2010 at 6:44pm

Senate Democrats are fighting back against an increasingly united Republican front opposing financial regulatory reform by tying GOP lawmakers to Wall Street — and daring them to vote against the measure.

“I don’t believe that will happen. I don’t believe a number of Republicans wants to be led by the no’s,” Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) told reporters.

With the lessons of the health care debate fresh on their minds, Democrats responded rapidly Wednesday to GOP attacks that Dodd’s bill would create a Wall Street bailout fund with taxpayer dollars. Behind the scenes, some were beginning to hone a messaging strategy to define the measure enveloped in delicate negotiations between Dodd and Banking ranking member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). The two were scheduled to meet Wednesday night to continue their talks.

Democrats have held off launching a full message campaign while talks between Dodd and Shelby continue. But as the partisan rhetoric heats up, leadership aides say a sweeping rollout should be unveiled soon.

“People are cognizant of some of the message pitfalls we hit during the health care debate and we’re moving forward in a way that avoids similar problems,” a Democratic leadership aide said. “We know what we want out of this bill. We want fairness and accountability. We want transparency.”

The Democrats’ messaging strategy found a target in a meeting held last week between financial executives and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and National Republican Senatorial Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) to discuss how to thwart the reform measure.

“The only consistent loser here if we do nothing is the guy on Main Street,” Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said at a press conference.

Congressional leaders emerged from a bipartisan meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House on Wednesday sharply divided over regulatory reform, with McConnell accusing the administration of trying to push through a partisan package for political reasons.

Bipartisan negotiations have broken down because “the Democrats were pulled back by the White House, and the impression one would get from that is that they thought this was a great political issue for them and they wanted to try to jam us,” McConnell said.

The result is a Democratic bill on the table that “actually guarantees future bailouts of Wall Street banks,” McConnell said. “That is clearly not the direction … Senate Republicans would like to go.”

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) shot down the suggestion by McConnell that Democrats are cutting Republicans out of the process. “This is a figment of his imagination,” Reid said after the meeting, adding that Senate Republicans have been holding up legislation for “this entire Congress” and that McConnell has been consistently trying to stall on the issue.

White House officials said McConnell and House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) — the two Republican representatives in the meeting — displayed far less vitriol while they were in the bipartisan meeting and questioned why their comments to reporters were so fiery.

“It was a very cordial meeting. I can’t explain to you why they thought it wasn’t or why their readout seemed to be … hotter than what their discussion points were,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said during a briefing.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who also spoke to reporters after the meeting, put a positive spin on discussions and said the administration will keep reaching out to Republicans for their ideas.

“Sen. McConnell said, as he’s said many times before, that … he’d like to work on something,” Geithner told reporters. “I think we’re very, very close. I think we’re going to have very broad support for this because it’s so important.”

However, Gibbs clarified that while Obama is willing to work with Republicans to make the bill stronger, he is not willing to strip the bill of key provisions in the name of bipartisanship.

“The president is not going to codify bad policy. The American people expect and deserve far more from financial reform than bad policy,” Gibbs said.

Despite fractures within their own caucus on key issues of financial reform, Democrats maintain they are on pace to unanimously support the bill making its way to the Senate floor. But as he continues to seek Republican support, Dodd has grown increasingly frustrated with the slow process and messaging wars.

Responding to GOP claims made one day before, Dodd went to the floor Wednesday morning to tell Republicans, “My patience is running out.”

“I’ve written provisions in this bill to accommodate various interests, but I’m not going to continue doing this if all I’m getting from the other side is a suggestion somehow that this is a partisan effort,” he said.