By David Espo & Jim Kuhnhenn, Associated Press Writers
WASHINGTON (AP) — Declaring themselves short of patience, Democrats set an initial showdown vote for next Monday on legislation to clamp new regulations on the financial industry while Republicans insisted on more bargaining. President Barack Obama admonished Wall Street leaders "to join us instead of fighting us" to prevent a future national financial collapse.
The test vote loomed in an election-year climate, with lawmakers ready to campaign this summer on the results of this legislation — written in reaction to the economic crisis that threw the nation into recession — as well as the hard-fought health care overhaul.
"The time for stalling is over," declared Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada. That drew a quick response from the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky: "I don't think bipartisanship is a waste of time."
Without an accord with the GOP, which was blocking the start of formal debate on the bill, Democrats would need 60 votes to move ahead in the Senate. Despite some signs of wavering, all 41 Republicans in the 100-member Senate remained publicly opposed on Thursday.
Reid was eager to test the Republican resolve, even as bipartisan negotiations continued. Reid conceded that the timetable for a vote could change if the talks bear fruit. Without a bipartisan bargain, Democrats were determined to portray Republicans as Wall Street allies and put them through test votes until enough senators agreed to proceed.
Emerging from a late afternoon meeting with Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, the committee's top Republican, Richard Shelby, said chances of an agreement before Monday's vote were "probably not probable." He predicted Republicans would vote as a bloc to put off action on the bill.
At the same time, senior Democrats signaled Thursday they hope to ease day-old restrictions a Senate committee slapped on the trading of financial derivatives, the complex investments blamed as a contributing factor to the economic near-meltdown of 2008.
The sweeping regulations represent the broadest attempt to overhaul the U.S. financial system since the 1930s. A House-passed bill and the pending Senate version would create a mechanism for liquidating large firms, set up a council to detect systemwide financial threats and establish a consumer protection agency to police lending, credit cards and other bank-customer transactions.