A bipartisan financial regulation reform bill could still be worked out in the Senate, despite a breakdown in negotiations, key Republicans said in a letter obtained by Reuters on Saturday.
The entire Republican membership of the Senate Banking Committee wrote to its Democratic chairman that they remain open to working out an agreement, but they want sufficient time to consider a new bill he plans to release soon.
The letter signaled that regulatory reform -- a top Obama administration priority -- might still be attainable in the Senate, despite a surprise collapse on Thursday in talks between committee Chairman Christopher Dodd and Republicans.
Dodd is expected to unveil revised legislation on Monday. He wants to bring it before the committee the following week for a working session, or mark-up, that will likely lead to a vote.
The letter signed by Senator Richard Shelby, the committee's top Republican, held out hope for a deal, but demanded that Dodd slow down the process.
While we remain open to finding common ground and to working diligently toward the passage of bipartisan legislation, we believe a markup scheduled in haste would certainly prevent us from achieving that goal, it said.
Accordingly, we urge you to allow for sufficient time to review the language, said Shelby and other committee Republicans in the letter dated March 12.
WORST CRISIS SINCE 1930s
Almost a year and a half since the worst U.S. banking and capital market crisis since the 1930s, financial regulation has changed little, despite a major push for reforms by President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats.
The White House unveiled a sweeping package of reforms in mid-2009. Parallel efforts to tighten government oversight of banks and markets are well under way in the European Union.
The U.S. House of Representatives approved most of Obama's proposals in December in a massive piece of legislation that passed without a single Republican vote of support.
With lobbyists for banks and Wall Street working hard to weaken or block reforms, the Senate has yet to act.
On Thursday, chances for reform appeared to dim after bipartisan talks collapsed and Dodd warned time was running out for legislation this year. He said he would unveil his own bill on Monday and aim to get it to the Senate floor by Easter.
His concern is shared in the Obama administration, where top officials see Congress' clock running down quickly ahead of the November congressional elections, aides said.
Dodd has the votes needed to move a Democratic bill out of the banking committee with no Republican support. But Democrats will likely need 60 votes to move a bill forward on the Senate floor because Republicans routinely use a procedural roadblock that can stifle debate. Democrats hold only 59 seats.
Any bill the Senate might produce would have to be merged with the House measure before unified legislation could be sent to Obama to be signed into law.
(Editing by Eric Beech)