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Brown remains uncommitted after fix to bank bill

- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 30, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) — Despite lawmakers' last-minute change to win his vote, Republican Sen. Scott Brown said Wednesday he needs more time to study a sweeping overhaul of financial regulations before committing his vote.

His stance leaves Democrats short, for now, of the 60 votes they need to overcome procedural hurdles to the bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Senate will have to wait until after the weeklong July 4 congressional break to take up the bill.

The House was expected to vote on a final, combined House-Senate bill, late Wednesday afternoon.

Congressional Democrats have been inching closer to passage of a major rewrite of financial industry regulations, making fixes as they go in hopes of securing the votes of straying Republicans.

On Tuesday, House and Senate negotiators reconvened to remove a $19 billion fee on large banks and hedge funds after Mr. Brown threatened to vote against the bill. Mr. Brown, of Massachusetts, supported a Senate version of the bill last month but said he objected to the fee, inserted by negotiators last week.

In a statement Wednesday, Mr. Brown said he appreciated the removal of the fee, but said he would review the bill over next week's recess.

"I remain committed to putting in place safeguards to prevent another financial meltdown, ensure that consumers are protected, and that this bill is paid for without new taxes," he said.

President Obama on Wednesday said Congress was on the verge of passing "the most comprehensive financial reform since the Great Depression" and decried Republican opposition to the bill.

In an advance text of his remarks in Racine, Wis., Mr. Obama took aim at House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio for remarking in a newspaper interview that the financial regulation bill was like using a nuclear weapon on an ant.

"If the Republican leader is that out of touch with the struggles facing the American people, he should come here to Racine and ask people if they think the financial crisis was an ant," Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Brown was one of only four Senate Republicans to vote for a Senate version of the bill last month. That bill did not contain the $19 billion bank fee.

House and Senate Democrats had already made changes to the bill to ensure Mr. Brown's vote, adding exceptions to limits on bank trading that would help Massachusetts financial institutions such as Boston-based State Street Corp., a bank holding company with about $150 billion in assets.

The death of Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, this week and fresh objections from Mr. Brown and Republicans Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine had threatened to derail the bill, already a year in the making. Mr. Brown, Ms. Snowe and Ms. Collins were three of 61 senators who had previously backed a Senate version of the bill.

Eager to salvage one of Mr. Obama's legislative priorities, Democrats dropped the fee that would have helped pay for the legislation. Banks with assets of over $50 billion and hedge funds with assets of more than $10 billion would have footed the bill.

Instead, House and Senate negotiators, voting along party lines, agreed to pay for the bill with $11 billion generated by ending the unpopular Troubled Asset Relief Program — the $700 billion bank bailout created in the fall of 2008 at the height of the financial scare.

They also agreed to increase premium rates paid by commercial banks to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to insure bank deposits. The premiums would increase from 1.15 percent of insured deposits to 1.35 percent by September 2020. The additional premium would be paid by banks with assets greater than $10 billion.

The bank fee was proposed by Rep. Barney Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, as a way to meet House rules that require spending cuts or revenue increases to pay for the costs of legislation. Neither the House nor the Senate had voted for the bank assessment.

By reluctantly ending TARP early, Democrats lost any hope of using some of the money toward unemployment extensions and other job related spending. It also prevented any savings realized by ending the program from being used toward lowering the deficit.

Republicans complained the solution was budget gimmickry and that it went against Congress' desire to use TARP repayments to reduce the debt.

"I'm getting caught in the middle of an intra-Republican debate here," Frank said after hearing Republicans on the House-Senate conference committee angrily deride the TARP-FDIC plan.

Besides the three Republicans, Democrats also were working to win the support of Sen. Maria Cantwell, Washington Democrat, who voted against the Senate version last month. She complained the bill was not tough enough on banks.

If unable to secure 60 votes, Democrats would have to wait for West Virginia's Democratic governor, Joe Manchin, to appoint Byrd's successor. Manchin has said he has no timetable for his decision.

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