Obama, Lawmakers Discuss Financial Overhaul

House and Senate leaders from both parties met with President Obama on Wednesday to discuss legislation revamping regulation of the financial industry. The Senate is poised to take up the bill amid sharp partisan differences.

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AUDIE CORNISH: I'm Audie Cornish on Capitol Hill.

For months, Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Banking Committee have said that financial reform wouldn't be as partisan as health care. They said they had 70 percent agreement on what would be in the bill. It appears that's no longer the case, says banking chairman Christopher Dodd.

Senator CHRISTOPHER DODD (Democrat, Connecticut; Chairman, Senate Banking Committee): Listening to some of the rhetoric of the last 24 hours, I wonder if we've been in not only in the same chamber, in the same city, but on the same planet when it comes to the efforts that have been made to try and reach a bipartisan agreement to deal with financial reform.

CORNISH: The bipartisan meeting at the White House with congressional leaders did little to blur the lines of division. Top Republican on the banking committee, Richard Shelby.

Senator RICHARD SHELBY (Republican, Alabama): (Unintelligible) right now and you say, look if we get 41 votes, you're going to have to deal with us because we're not going to support the Dodd bill as it came out of the committee.

CORNISH: GOP lawmakers see the White House's efforts as unwelcome interference in what was left of negotiations. They need a united front, all 41 votes to block the bill. So far, the few Republicans that Democrats hope to win over are either hostile to the measure or ambivalent. Here are three senators from New England: Judd Gregg, Susan Collins and Scott Brown.

Senator JUDD GREGG (Republican, New Hampshire): Why would we do that when we're not in the room? I mean, basically the proposals that are on the table today do not accomplish our goals.

Senator SUSAN COLLINS (Republican, Maine): It's premature for me to reach a judgment on the bill. I'm not happy with the process that they use to bring it to the floor.

Senator SCOTT BROWN (Republican, Massachusetts): It's politics over really solving problems, and the president should do better. And I challenge him and the administration to do better.

CORNISH: And Democrats may have trouble with some of their own caucus. Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said he wants the bill to be a lot tougher on consumer issues.

Senator BERNIE SANDERS (Independent, Vermont): If it's not a strong bill, if it's not going to have real change, of course I'm prepared to vote against it.

CORNISH: The GOP's central argument against the bill is that it would create a permanent bailout fund to deal with troubled financial firms. The bill does propose that the financial industry, not taxpayers, put up money to dissolve such companies. Democrats say their bill is a good one. And if they learned anything from the health care debate, it is not to give ground for a glimmer of bipartisanship.

Audie Cornish, NPR News, the Capitol.

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