If there is any agreement between Democrats and Republicans on a sweeping financial regulatory reform bill now under debate, it is that neither side likes it very much as it is currently written. But efforts to change it through the amendment process may be cut short.
"We have the same goals and if we really work for the next three weeks or so and get all these amendments through, that will be great," Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said during debate as she offered a bipartisan amendment that would reformulate bank insurance premiums to lighten the burden on small institutions.
But Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he wants to finish the bill "next week or sooner" and that the Senate schedule is far too packed to drag out debate.
He has proposed a deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that would require a simple majority to pass an amendment, rather than the usual 60.
"We have no choice but to finish by the end of next week," Reid said, adding that the Senate needs to take up spending bills and a food safety measure, among other things.
But Republicans say they will need much more time.
"I don't think this is a couple-of-weeks bill," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "This is a serious piece of legislation before us that needs to be addressed in a serious way."
As currently written, the bill would create new federal oversight of the financial sector, including the creation of a consumer protection agency. It would also establish a $50 billion fund to take apart big financial institutions that fail.
Democrats and Republicans want to tighten language in the bill to protect taxpayers from future financial meltdowns and they want amendments to shield small businesses from potential overregulation in the bill.
One of the first amendments the Senate is expected to vote on was offered Tuesday by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. The provision would clarify language in the bill to ensure that the federal government cannot prop up failed banks with taxpayer dollars in an attempt to save them.
"If there is a liquidation of one of these hotshot firms, they are not going to be kept alive, they are going to be put to sleep," Boxer said.
The Boxer amendment comes in response to Republican criticism that the bill would institutionalize bank bailouts.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said the Boxer amendment is "a great cover vote" that will not really change the bill.
He said Sens. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., have an agreement "on closing the loopholes so that there is certainty that when a large institution fails it is going out of business."
But the two need time to write the amendment, Corker said.
There is also bipartisan support for an amendment offered by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, that preserves the ability of banks to provide small businesses with customized payment terms.
"The necessity of this amendment is especially critical given the small-business credit crisis that continues to plague the nation," Snowe said.
Dodd agreed, adding, "The last thing we want to do is overburden in the regulatory environment."