Corker Chides Fellow Republicans for Financial Reform Rhetoric

Posted April 20, 2010 at 12:45pm

Updated: 630 p.m.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) criticized both parties for their heightened partisan rhetoric over financial regulatory reform — and warned members of his own party in particular that they are using arguments that play right into the hand of the White House.

“The way this whole debate has been framed is to me very low level and very silly,” Corker told reporters Tuesday. “And even the things that we’ve been saying on our side of the aisle about bailouts and all that, they miss the point and I think take us off on a bunch of rabbit trails.”

Corker was referencing his leadership’s decision to cast the bill’s bank-financed $50 billion fund for the dissolution of failed financial firms as a way to permanently insure future taxpayer bailouts along the lines of the $750 billion Wall Street rescue passed in October 2008.

“You know the interesting thing about us picking … the $50 billion fund is that it plays right into the hands of the administration, because they don’t want this $50 billion fund,” Corker said. “What they want to do is come right back around and tax the banks, and if there’s a $50 billion pre-fund it keeps them from being able to do it. So I don’t understand why our line of attack has been over that fund.”

White House officials have said the fund is not their preference, and they have proposed a bank tax.

Corker also indicated that, should Democratic leaders eliminate that fund, Republican leaders have rhetorically boxed themselves in to the point that they would have few other avenues to force other important changes in the bill.

Corker said he expressed his views to his fellow Republicans, and he strongly hinted that he could break with his leadership’s united opposition to the bill if he feels Republicans are not negotiating in good faith. However, Corker said that for now he will stay with his Caucus in hopes that bipartisan talks will eventually produce a bill he can fully support.

“One of the things that my being where I am is contingent upon is that both sides negotiate in good faith, and right now, I am where I am as long as both — I made that very, very clear — both sides negotiate in good faith,” Corker said. “As far as I can tell right now, I think both sides are negotiating in good faith. … I’m willing to hold firm as long as there’s good faith negotiations going on on both sides. I’ve made that very clear, publicly, privately”

Corker’s fellow Republicans expressed confusion about his comments, noting that the news arrived via BlackBerry just as Corker was delivering a blistering critique of the Dodd bill during the GOP’s weekly, closed-door lunch. His comments, according to one Republican who attended the lunch, echoed much of what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said about the legislation.

“A number of members didn’t know what to make of his statements after their BlackBerrys alerted them” to the news story, the Republican said.

So far, Corker said he believes the measure would need some key fixes to the $50 billion fund, to a section on consumer protections and to a section regulating derivatives, before he would support it. But he said he is loath right now to make his own deal with Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) given the progress he believes Dodd is making with ranking member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.).

“I don’t think we can have like eight negotiators,” Corker said. “It’s about a week before … this thing may be coming to the floor. I think that right now it’s best to try to give Shelby this week to try to work something out, you know, with his staff. I think that’s an appropriate thing to do. To my knowledge, we don’t have any dissimilarities as far as the kinds of things we’d like to see happen. So, you know, could I go over and probably try to figure out a way to make a deal myself? I don’t know. I certainly understand the issues. Do I think it’s best right now that Shelby who is ranking member of the committee try to get there? I think it is.”