How Dodd's Retirement Might Impact Wall Street Reform

Chris Dodd of Connecticut is one of two senators who announced their retirements this week. As head of the Senate Banking Committee, Dodd has been in charge of rewriting the rules governing Wall Street. NPR's Audie Cornish speaks with host Guy Raz about what shape legislation to overhaul the financial system might take with Dodd's departure.

GUY RAZ, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

Midterm elections are almost always good news for the party in opposition. And while there are some 10 months to go before a third of the seats in the Senate and the entire House are up for grabs, Republicans are already anticipating big celebrations for the night of November 2, 2010.

Two Senate announcements this week added to that optimism. North Dakota's Byron Dorgan and Connecticut's Christopher Dodd announced they wouldn't seek reelection.

Senator CHRISTOPHER DODD (Democrat, Connecticut; Chairman, Senate Banking Committee): After 35 years of representing the people of Connecticut in the United States Congress, I will not be a candidate for reelection.

Senator BYRON DORGAN (Democrat, North Dakota): I mean, there are other things I want to do in life so I made a decision that I was not going to seek reelection.

RAZ: We begin the hour with a look at how these retirements may or may not affect both policy and power on Capitol Hill. Chris Dodd's retirement could have a pretty big impact on the prospects for reform of this country's financial system. He's the head of the Senate Banking Committee and he's been trying to rewrite the rules that govern Wall Street - a bill that's expected to be taken up within the next two months by the full Senate.

And for that story, we turn to NPR's Audie Cornish on Capitol Hill.

And, Audie, Senator Dodd has been the Democrats' sort of point person in the Senate on reforming the financial system. What kind of impact does his announcement have on reform?

AUDIE CORNISH: Well, the one thing people can agree is that it essentially in a way ensures that it will happen. Chris Dodd came out and said that he is not going to seek reelection. And one of the things he sort of hinted at is about his legacy. And you can't underestimate how meaningful that is for senators.

After 30-something years, they want to walk away from this place with their name on something and having had made a difference. And with this piece of legislation, Dodd could change the way the financial industry works for an entire generation.

RAZ: I mean, you talk about legacy and Chris Dodd, of course, has kind of been known as the banker's man in the Senate. I mean, some of his biggest campaign contributors have been big banks. So when you say legacy, is there a sense that Chris Dodd may want to leave the Senate without having had that reputation?

CORNISH: Well, first of all, in fairness, Connecticut is a state that has an industry that is heavy with hedge fund managers and insurance companies and financial industry firms. So that's sort of a given. But what happened with Chris Dodd in his own state, he was perceived as too cozy with the industry. What he's tried to do over the last year is punch back with backing credit card legislation and executive pay legislation.

RAZ: Right.

CORNISH: And he's tried to bring back that sort of populist feel or sort of be the super populist.

RAZ: Yeah. The fact that he's announced that he's not running for reelection, does it kind of unleash him in a sense? I mean, could he push for more aggressive reform?

CORNISH: Well, certainly, if you are a consumer advocate, that's what you're thinking right now and that's what you're hoping for right now. But the fact is it's still been a brutal year for legislation in the Senate and it's so partisan. And any one senator can kind of put the kibosh on things. So he is working in a bipartisan way. And he broke up his committee into little bipartisan groups and everyone's working on a bid. And really, this is the opposite of what we saw, say, with health care reform.

RAZ: Mm-hmm. And so, this probably won't be as contentious.

CORNISH: It's interesting. When you talk to senators, say, on the Banking Committee, they say, you know, this is not as emotional for us as health care reform. This is really just about the nuts and bolts of making the economy work for Wall Street and work for Main Street, all that sort of language. But it has been so partisan this year that don't expect to see anything go through smoothly.

I mean, one central part of the legislation is the Consumer Financial Protection Agency. This idea of a standalone agency that keeps watch over subprime mortgages and credit cards and overdraft protection. It's hugely contentious.

RAZ: Mm-hmm.

CORNISH: The industry hates it. Republicans don't want it. And it is a central part of the bill.

RAZ: That's NPR's Audie Cornish on Capitol Hill.

Audie, thanks so much.

CORNISH: Thank you.

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